Gun Security – how much is legally required?
“a lockable cabinet, container, or receptacle of stout construction in which firearms may be stored”
I think one of the most common questions I get asked is regarding what level of security is required when applying for your A cat firearms license. Sadly, it is also often underpinned with the unvoiced subtext of ‘how little can I get away with to comply’. This can result in people taking advice from others and doing the least possible for the arms officer check. Safes are not a requirement; a rack mounted bar can be enough, and for A category firearms, a chain around a stud in the garage has been accepted in the past. Unfortunately, sometimes very basic (and in my opinion totally inadequate) gun security standards become the norm.
Furthermore, as a gun owner, there is no legal requirement to have an alarm system as part of your gun security. This remains the same, regardless of whether you have a single rifle, multiple rifles, pistols, E-Category Firearms1, or for that matter, a collection of C Category2 or even a shop full of firearms for sale3. Certainly, it is highly recommended, and I would imagine insurance would be fun, but the fact stands that there is no legal requirement at this time. I found this surprising and little concerning. However, since part of owning a firearm is personal responsibility, I took it upon myself to go beyond the bare minimum and properly secure my guns.
While I was already looking into better security for my humble collection of firearms, several recent incidents prompted me to get things sorted.
Incident 1 – Safe gas axed while owner was away
While in the process of moving house, a gun owner was identified through a moving company (new employee was keeping a list of safes being moved) and while absent from the house, a group of people visited both neighbours, explained they were doing some work for the new owners and would be making a bit of noise, and proceeded to gas-axe an E-Cat safe.
I don’t care how thick the steel is in your safe, or the amount of locking mechanisms on it, if someone can take to it with a gas axe, especially with no-one thinking anything out of the ordinary is happening – they are going to get through your security.
Incident 2 – Collector robbed – didn’t find out until getting back home
A firearms collector has a significant amount of MSSA and C category firearms stolen. From the reports in the media, they didn’t have any form of alarm or monitoring – so were unaware of the theft until returning home several hours later. Reports of ‘mysterious phone calls’ to ascertain if they were there or not also surfaced – but again, rural address, and likely had the security physically bypassed with the use of tools.
Raising the standard
the holder shall take reasonable steps to ensure that any firearm in the holder’s possession is secured against theft:
But what is reasonable? What my level of reasonable is going to be very different to the next person, depending on how much importance we placed on keeping the firearms secure.
Much like the new H&S legislation, where ‘reasonably practicable steps’ has replaced ‘all practicable steps’ there still seems a massive amount of leeway when it comes to the actual, practical requirements. In the new Health and Safety Reform, we do get a bit more guidance –
The new standard is broadly similar to the existing concept of “All Practicable Steps”, except that the assessment of costs must only be taken after the assessment of the risk and the ways to eliminate that risk. This means that costs will only take precedence over safety when the cost of taking a step is “grossly disproportionate” to the risk.
So, we now start to include cost as a gauge of whether we have gone far enough. In a similar vein then, how much is appropriate and how much is ‘grossly disproportionate’ when it comes to gun security?
Placing a value on gun security
Oh, how topical.
Considering, that as I write this, there is a select committee inquiry into issues relating to the illegal possession of firearms in New Zealand. Gun security, or, put another way, stopping people stealing your firearms, seems to be an excellent subject to be discussing.
For me, the actual physical theft of my guns would be an inconvenience – we have good insurance, so the items would simply be replaced, and on my merry way I would go. The ‘cost’ in that case, would be the damage to the house/safe (also covered) and covering off the excess and potential increase in premiums. But that isn’t the main ‘cost’ when it comes to firearms theft.
To me, the main cost is the thought that my firearms could end up in the hands of criminals. I place the value of that, much higher than the actual inconvenience of the physical loss. Much higher.
Gun Security Basics
Because I have an E and B endorsement on my license, I have, to start with, a higher requirement placed on me than most firearms license holders. A compliance document stipulates 6mm steel, multiple fixing points, dual locks, enough actually to make the regular requirements seem insanely simple and trivial. Certainly, getting the safe up a flight of stairs was anything but trivial.
Also, I keep the safe discreetly tucked away in a locked cupboard – this simple makes things less visible, and additionally gives me a place to lock away other things that I don’t need people having easy access to – like my camera gear, knives, spotting scope and so on.
Alarms – pointless?
However, having heard about some recent events, it seemed only logical also to put in an alarm. More specially, though, a monitored alarm – because I am still personally a little dubious about the actual value of an alarm system.
Bear in mind – I am not concerned about an opportunistic theft at this point. No quick smash and grab thief is getting to my firearms in any reasonable amount of time. Certainly, with an alarm wailing at extreme audio levels4 even less so.
However, sadly, modern society means that an alarm, car or house, often doesn’t draw much in the way of attention, apart from neighbours complaining about the noise.5
Monitoring, however, finally brings a proper level of security into place.
A little understanding goes a long way
My brother spent several years in the UK setting up alarms and CCTV for workplace monitoring. Before that, he ran an alarm company in NZ. Also, I have a background in home automation, and we are both sons of a sparky. So I had a bit of a head start when it came to understanding what could be done in regards to an alarm system.
However, what I was surprised to find, is that the cost has come down quite significantly, and the ability to set up a slightly more sophisticated gun security system is all but standard in most ‘out of the box’ alarm systems.
By sophistication – I am referring to splint monitoring or, dual zones.
Two alarms in one
Essentially, with our alarm, we have two systems in place. The first is a standard house alarm – monitored, so if the alarm goes off, the security company calls me (through experience within a couple of minutes) and asks me what is happening. If I know, I give them a password, and either nothing happens, or, if I ask, or they can’t get hold of me, a security guard is dispatched to check out the premises.
However, under that, is running a separate, secondary gun security system.
Even when we disarm the primary system, the safe and the cupboard it is in, remains armed. Separate codes, passwords and a different response for the alarm company.
If the second alarm goes off (silently), and the first alarm is already going off, I don’t get called. The police do. They are informed that there is a theft involving firearms in process and the thieves are currently in the building.
If the second alarm goes off and the first doesn’t, I have a couple of minutes to proactively call the alarm company, otherwise again, the police will be called. However, the message is that there is a theft involving firearms underway, and the owners of the building are also present. I do hope, that course of action is never activated.
Now, that’s not all that is going on, but that’s all I need to put out publically.6
Now, you might think that this sounds complicated and expensive. However, it’s 2016 – that is pretty much standard functionality now. I don’t pay extra for the dual zone monitoring (which traditionally used be called parallel monitoring), and the setup just required me explaining how I wanted the gun security system setup. Which leads me to another important point.
Choose your alarm company, installer and monitoring company wisely.
More specifically, choose someone who owns firearms and understands them. Because it was my brother, even though he was looking a little sideways at me initially, he quickly started to understand what I was trying to achieve. If I didn’t have a little background in the area, I might not have known what to ask for, nor explain how I wanted it setup with the physical alarm or the monitoring rules. As it was, I ended up using a monitoring company run by someone who contacted nearly over a year ago through the bloke – a regular reader, a shooter, and someone with an understanding of gun security and what I was trying to do.
Well. Not really. Not considering the piece of mind for both me and my partner (we also get a house alarm, garage alarm and so on). If I honestly add up what I have in the cupboard, money wise, it is cheap ‘insurance’ (not the wife valuation, the real valuation lads). Oh, and of course, talking about insurance, we get a discount for having a monitored alarm7.
All up, we remained under the 1k mark. This is including wireless monitoring for a stand-alone garage, IP Card so I can monitor, and arm/unarm from my iPhone, extra sensors, sirens, etc.
So, grossly disproportionate? No. Not really. Grossly disproportionate is a padlock and a piece of chain around a stud in the garage. That’s not gun security.
Who to contact?
Well, the bro doesn’t do alarms as a job anymore, and I am not that interested in climbing through your roof.
If you are in Auckland – contact Dougall. Member of the North Auckland Deerstalkers, one of the best shooters I know and the man behind Total Security Group. He can also supply the safe, home automation and CCTC while he is at it.
For monitoring – contact Frank at Country Wide Monitoring. Another man with a pile of experience, and very helpful when it came to setting up the monitoring rules.