The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has directed county counsel to work with the county sheriff to craft an ordinance requiring gun owners in unincorporated areas to lock up their firearms.

Supervisor Candace Andersen, who introduced the item, said a similar state law is directed only at households with children. Andersen wants to account for things like theft, suicides, and visitors getting access to someone’s gun.

Andersen said “many cities in Contra Costa” have already passed similar measures requiring guns to either be in a locked storage box or have locking devices on the weapon itself.

“A lot of people I know who have guns, none of them keep their guns unlocked as I’ve discussed it with them, they think it’s a common sense to lock your gun, your weapon at all times,” Andersen said.

“What I found most shocking is when we had a rash of burglaries in the north Danville and Alamo-south Walnut Creek area, anecdotally how often I was hearing guns/weapons have been stolen, which of course are more likely going to be used in the commission of other crimes,” Andersen said.

‘Traumatic and tragic’

Supervisor Ken Carlson, a former Concord police officer, talked about seeing the effects of unlocked guns on children up close and personal.

“I, early in my career, was called to the home of a youngster who, on the very last day of school, used his parents’ gun to kill himself, and should have been moving on to a summer of fun and looking forward to moving on to middle school; that’s how young this person was,” Carlson said.

“It was traumatic and tragic that it could have been prevented, having to share with a parent along with their child over what might be perceived as their neglect or their lack of control. It’s just traumatic all the way around to the community,” Carlson said. “What it ingrained in me is the need for us to do this to prevent those types of things from happening.”

“What I found most shocking is when we had a rash of burglaries … how often I was hearing guns/weapons have been stolen, which of course are more likely going to be used in the commission of other crimes.”

Supervisor Candace Andersen

A staff report said the state law only prohibits the storage of unlocked firearms on the premises if either a child — without parental permission — or someone who is not supposed to have access to firearms, is likely to gain access to the weapon.

“Having a loaded or unlocked firearm in the home has been associated with an increased risk of firearm-related injury and death, as well as with the theft of the firearms,” the report said. “It is estimated that 200,000-500,000 guns are stolen each year in the United States. Thefts are a source of guns for the commission of other crimes. Recent burglaries in Contra Costa County have included the theft of firearms.”

Reducing risks for kids

Numerous people spoke in favor of the idea during public comment, without anyone speaking against it.

The report said keeping guns loaded or unlocked increases the risk of an accidental shooting and brings higher risks of suicide. It also said immediate access to loaded firearms increases the risk that a person’s impulsive decision to die by suicide will be carried out without reflection or seeking help, and the impulsive attempt will be fatal.

“Children are particularly at risk of injury or death, or causing injury or death, when they can access firearms within their own homes or at homes they visit,” the report said.

The report said both gun rights and gun control advocates support using locking devices.

“Requiring stored, unsupervised firearms to be secured with gun locks or in a locked container is a sensible safety regulation and does not substantially burden the right or ability to use firearms for self-defense in the home,” the report said.

The proposal would only affect unincorporated county areas, though some cities, such as Walnut Creek, already have similar ordinances. Once crafted, the proposal will come back to the board for a vote.