LITTLETON–The Littleton City Council on Feb 2 enacted an unprecedented gun storage ordinance that requires both wholesale and retail firearms sellers, gunsmiths and pawnbrokers to obtain a “firearm retailer license” that claims to “mitigate the risks to the citizens of Littleton and the community at large by requiring certain safeguards to ensure that firearms do not illegally enter society.”
The licensing and storage requirements appear to be the first in Colorado and are rare in other states. At least one impacted Littleton business calls the burdensome new rules unworkable.
Littleton is a home rule municipality of roughly 44,000 residents that straddles Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties in the south Denver-metro area.
The City justifies this ordinance by claiming that “there have been a number of burglaries of businesses that sell firearms” leading to “a number of unlicensed firearms being on the streets” and that therefore they “present a health, welfare and safety threat to our citizens and the community at large.”
The City Council cited “smash and grab” burglaries that resulted in 144 guns being stolen from Littleton gun stores in the last four years. Statewide, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reported 225 instances of loss or theft of firearms from federal firearms licensees between 2016 and 2019, the latest year data is available.
There are four gun retailers in Littleton; two pawn shops, Triple J Armory and gun range and Old Steel Historical Firearms.
Sweeping in scope
The ordinance defines what constitutes a safe storage container as a “gun cabinet or gun safe” and mandates specific design characteristics including the thickness of steel required, the design of the door and hinges and specific locking mechanism requirements. It also defines a “safe” in detail, and defines a “safe room” as a reinforced room having “one entry into the room with no other means of entry secured by a locked steel door.”
Because of the specificity in the materials and design of authorized storage devices, alternatives such as commonly-used cable locks that secure multiple rifles in a wall rack or shatterproof display cabinets that prevent or slow smash and grab tactics, cannot even be considered.
The intent of the ordinance is to require gun retailers to move all firearms from displays in the showroom into a gun cabinet, gun safe or safe room whenever the business is closed.
To have a license issued the gun retailer must submit a “Safe Storage and Security Measures Plan approved by the Littleton Police Department.” A list of requirements for such a plan includes burglar alarms and video recording “at all points of entry and at all points where firearms are displayed, stored, or sold.”
The Littleton Police Department has gone much further than the ordinance requires by creating a list of criteria for approval that includes day-to-day operational requirements while the store is open, including things like “disaster plans,” “procedures for removing/replacing firearms to show customers,” “inventory security,” “prohibit keys from being left in locks and do not store or place keys in a location accessible to persons other than specifically authorized personnel.”
An undue burden
The requirement that all firearms be moved into secured storage may sound reasonable, but in reality it can create undue burdens on retailers.
Each time a firearm is handled there is a risk of damage, which is why they are generally not removed from display cases or wall racks every night. Additionally the time involved in doing so increases business costs.
“Any time you have to handle your inventory, you put wear on it,” said Shawn Steele, General Manager of Old Steel in an interview with Complete Colorado. “A new gun is a new gun so as far as it’s a new gun, right? You wouldn’t want to go to a car dealership and buy a car if it’s got a big old scrape on the side of it.”
“The majority of what we have are military or wartime rifles,” said Steele. “It would take an investment of over $75,000 to buy gun safes, and then we would have a store full of safes. Then to move the guns in and out every night, you’re going be damaging them. You’re going to be scraping them. You’re going to be detracting from the value of the gun every time you handle it.”
Steele’s problems with the ordinance are somewhat unique because Old Steel’s inventory is made up of antique, curio and collector’s firearms. Steele says he has more than 1,300 firearms, about ten percent of which are handguns, and the remainder are long guns. This creates a situation where Steele and store owner Giovanni Galeano believe the ordinance is unworkable and creates an undue financial burden on the shop.
Galeano spoke at the meeting and made the point that as written, he cannot hope to comply with the ordinance.
“The city has made no effort to contact us nor learn anything about what it is they’re trying to ban, which is typical,” said Steele.
During discussion prior to passing the ordinance, Councilwoman Kelly Milliman, speaking to the issues faced by Old Steel said, “To me a gun is a gun is a gun. Whether it was manufactured in the 1940 or 50s versus 2020 or 2021, it’s still a weapon that can be used to harm another individual, so I would support an ordinance that goes across the board, no exceptions.”
Littleton Police Department Chief Doug Stephens said that he recognizes the issues involved at Old Steel and is trying to work with retailers to address their concerns. He said he would return to the City Council with a report on those issues prior to August 1, when the ordinance takes effect.
Responding to Milliman’s statements, Stephens said he feels he must treat all retailers equally.
Triple J Armory declined to comment for this article.
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