By Randi Pierce
This spring, state and local officials launched an effort reminding gun owners to safely secure their guns when not in use in order to stop the rise in the number of firearms stolen each year and to prevent the improper/unintentional use of a firearm.
The outreach by local law enforcement officials and District Attorney Christian Champagne of the Sixth Judicial District is in partnership with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
But, following the signing of a pair of bills into law Monday relating to the safe storage and reporting of lost or stolen firearms, the message is now a matter of law.
According to facts provided by the Sixth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, a total of 36 guns were lost or stolen in Archuleta County in 2019 and 2020, with the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) responding to 27 of those incidents and the Pagosa Springs Police Department (PSPD) responding to nine.
Champagne recognized that people want to carry firearms for self-defense and public safety, and that gun owners are generally very, very safe with their gun storage, but explained that officials are seeing an increase in gun theft from cars, with some specifically targeting cars with guns in them.
He added that if someone steals your firearm it may not be your fault, but it is something that can be prevented.
A press release from Champagne’s office states, “In order to prevent such theft, and any injuries or deaths that may occur, law enforcement officials encourage firearms owner to practice safe storage.”
Safe storage, the document continues, “means that the firearm is secured with a locking device (such as a trigger or cable lock), kept in a locked safe or other secure container, or is a personalized firearm that can only be unlocked by the authorized owner (such as through biometric identification). It must be secured so that a juvenile or other person who is ineligible to possess a firearm does not have access.”
Champagne, Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez and Pagosa Springs Police Chief Bill Rockensock each shared firearm safety tips with The SUN.
The three offered reminders:
• Know where your firearm is at all times and keep track of it.
Rockensock noted people tend to leave firearms in places such as hotels, cars and restrooms.
• Don’t leave your firearm unattended — lock it up or have it on your person.
• Use tools such as gun safes, locking cabinets and trigger locks to prevent improper/unintentional use.
• If firearms must be kept in a vehicle, keep them locked and secured.
• Valdez indicated that people have reported leaving town, taking a firearm with them, then doing things like oil changes and losing the firearm.
• If somebody is going to be working on your house or vehicle where you have firearms, be sure they are locked away.
• Separate firearms from ammo while storing.
Rockensock and Valdez offered that those in need of trigger locks can obtain them for free from either law enforcement agency or, often, by visiting agency booths at community events.
The Pagosa Springs Police Department can be reached by calling (970) 264-4151. The Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office can be reached by calling (970) 264-8430.
All three also explained the importance of owners keeping track of the serial numbers and basic information of their firearms, as well as reporting lost or stolen firearms as soon as possible.
Valdez noted documenting serial numbers and having an inventory of firearms stored in a safe place as one of the most important steps, explaining law enforcement has “big challenges with not having the ability to go back to find those serial numbers.”
“At a minimum people need to keep track of their own serial numbers for their guns in a safe place,” Champagne said.
Valdez suggested documenting by photographs, which he noted is easily done with cellphones, as well as logging the serial number, description and any unique characteristics.
He further indicated that if firearms can be entered in as lost/stolen quickly, law enforcement has a better chance.
“Notify us as soon as you can,” he said.
Champagne indicated that it is “fairly frequent” that lost or stolen firearms are used in criminal episodes.
“A lot of time when we have criminal cases that involve guns … many times those guns are from the black market, and we see things like the serial numbers are scratched off or removed entirely, or, you know, the guns are … sort of very difficult to trace or trace back to places that are far away,” he said.
The two bills signed by Gov. Jared Polis Monday are HB21-1106, Safe Storage Of Firearms, and SB21-078, Lost or Stolen Firearms.
The new law regarding safe storage of firearms “requires that firearms be responsibly and securely stored when they are not in use to prevent access by unsupervised juveniles and other unauthorized users,” a bill summary states.
The summary further explains, “The bill creates the offense of unlawful storage of a firearm if a person stores a firearm in a manner that the person knows, or should know:
“• That a juvenile can gain access to the firearm without the permission of the juvenile’s parent or guardian; or
“• A resident of the premises is ineligible to possess a firearm under state or federal law.”
Per the new law, unlawful storage of a firearm is a class 2 misdemeanor.
The new law further, according to the summary, “requires licensed gun dealers to provide with each firearm, at the time of a firearm sale or transfer, a locking device capable of securing the firearm. Transferring a firearm without a locking device is an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $500 fine.”
The law also requires the state court administrator to report annually to the general assembly about the number of charges related to unsafe firearms storage and the disposition of those charges.
Additionally, the summary explains, “The bill requires the office of suicide prevention within the department of public health and environment (department) to include on its website, and in materials provided to firearms-related businesses and health care providers, information about the offense of unlawful storage of a firearm, penalties for providing a handgun to a juvenile or allowing a juvenile to possess a firearm, and the requirement that gun dealers provide a locking device with each firearm transferred. Subject to available money, the department is required to develop and implement a firearms safe storage education campaign to educate the public about the safe storage of firearms, and state requirements related to firearms safety and storage, and information about voluntary temporary firearms storage programs .”
The new lost or stolen firearms law, according to a bill summary, requires an individual who owns a firearm to report the loss or theft of that firearm to a law enforcement agency within five days after discovering the firearm was lost or stolen.
The bill summary further indicates that a first offense for failure to make such a report is a civil infraction punishable by a $25 fine, and a second or subsequent offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine.
“The five-day reporting requirement does not apply to a licensed gun dealer,” the summary states.
It then requires that law enforcement agencies receiving a report of a lost or stolen firearm to enter information about that firearm into the National Crime Information Center database and report the information to the Colorado Bureau of Information.
For more information on the new laws, visit: https://leg.colorado.gov/.