On a Thursday morning at United Church of Christ of Longmont, four styles of PIN code gun safes sat on a table.
Giving them a test run were Sarah Verasco, the church’s senior minister, alongside church members Dede Alspaugh and Ann Noonan. At the punch of four buttons or the swipe of a fingerprint, a door on each of the sleek black safes popped open, revealing a padded interior where a person could safely store a handgun.
“You can open that just as quickly as a cellphone,” Verasco said.
In an effort to promote safe gun storage, the church is partnering with Out Boulder County, the Longmont Public Safety Department and the Longmont Community Foundation to give away at least 100 PIN code gun safes. The giveaway will take place from 9 a.m. to noon July 24 in the parking lot of the Longmont Public Safety Department, 225 Kimbark St.
“We’re just encouraging anyone who is not currently practicing safe storage to come out,” Verasco said. “We’re happy to help orient people to the device and to express our appreciation for their willingness to pick up this new practice.”
The giveaway follows the passage of a new safe gun storage law, which went into effect Thursday. House Bill 21-1106 requires that firearms be “responsibly and securely stored when they are not in use to prevent access by unsupervised juveniles and other unauthorized users.” The law says safe storage is a “locked gun safe or other secure container” that can only be disabled with the use of a key, combination or biometric data. A gun doesn’t require storage if a person is carrying it. The law also requires every licensed gun dealer to provide a locking device capable of securing each firearm that is sold or transferred. The law says that unlawful storage of a firearm is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which may result in a fine or imprisonment.
“What we’re learning is that what used to qualify as safe storage doesn’t qualify as safe storage anymore,” Verasco said. “The firearms that were stored in Tupperware at the top of the closet, people were getting access to that and injury and death was occurring by accident.”
The mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers, which left 10 people dead in March, was among the many tragedies that has sparked conversation on what can be done to reduce gun violence. Verasco said the start of the new law this month opened a window of opportunity for the church and community leaders to help respond to that calling.
“The mass shooting in Boulder created an opening. When hearts are broken, people need to turn pain into purpose. This was an opportunity to use that pain in a way that can be constructive,” Verasco said.
Mardi Moore, Out Boulder County executive director, said the nonprofit will be present during the July 24 event and that its leaders are eager to be a partner in the effort. She said research shows how gun violence disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ people.
She referenced a “Gun Violence Against Sexual and Gender Minorities in the United States” article published in April 2019 by the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law Williams Institute. The article described the increased danger for gun violence for LGBT people, because they face victimization from hate crimes, intimate partner violence, discrimination and “a high prevalence of suicide ideation and attempts.”
“We are very happy to be part of this to make sure people are able to safely store their guns, so one of our youth isn’t able to get a hold of a gun at a friend’s house or their own house,” Moore said. “Gun violence is an epidemic in the United States and we want to be part of the solution. We are all for safe storage and we are all for buyback programs that lead to the community’s safety.”
Longmont police Deputy Chief Jeff Satur echoed the sentiment.
“We are very supportive of safe gun storage,” Satur said. “Unsafe gun storage leads to all kinds of issues, including … a lot of guns stolen out of cars, and, parties sometimes kids take them from their friend’s house. We would encourage people to protect their guns and store them safely in some sort of locked device.”
During the July 24 event, people who attend will also be able to get up to three cable locks from the public safety department. A cable lock, which is threaded through the magazine well and out the ejection port, prevents the trigger from being pulled and works similar to a padlock. Public safety provides cable locks to people at any time, so long as they live in Longmont.
Noonan, who in addition to being a church member is also a private practice behavioral health professional, said that some may argue that safe gun storage makes it time consuming to access a weapon if it’s needed. The technology involved in many modern PIN code safes, though, “immediately opens,” unlike older-style safes.
“The success in this project will mainly be in raising awareness,” Noonan said. “It’s not political. It’s really about harm reduction and increasing safety.”
The giveaway is the first of two of the church’s events, both with a goal of improving gun safety. A gun buyback event will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 25 at the church, 1500 Ninth Ave. During the event, people can exchange their firearms for a general use gift card ranging from $100 to $300. Colorado Springs-based RAWtools will be disabling the weapons and converting them into garden tools.
“For us the events are linked,” Verasco said. “This is a time for people to consider if gun ownership is a good fit for them. If gun ownership is a fit, let’s safely store it. If not, we have a way to safely turn it in without any hassle.”
The church invested about $25,000 total in the both events, using funds from its common assets. Each PIN code safe costs about $75. The Longmont Community Foundation also is collecting donations to support both initiatives and purchase more safes and gift cards.
Satur said if people miss the event on July 24, they have plenty of options for purchasing a safe or affordable gun safe at a number of local stores, such as Walmart, Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply and Home Depot.
“We want to work in harmony with public safety,” Verasco said. “Deputy Chief Satur and all the folks that are engaged in their work, work very hard in keeping the community safe. We believe it’s not just their job. We need the community to also invest.”
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