Los Altos to draft ordinance mandating safe storage of personally owned firearms

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY ALLISON HUANG

The City of Los Altos is set to draft an ordinance mandating lock boxes and trigger locks for all personally owned firearms, following a resolution made by Councilman Jonathan Weinberg at last week’s city council meeting. The exact timeline for the ordinance is unclear.

Under current law, an individual commits the crime of criminal storage of a firearm in the third degree if the individual leaves a firearm in a location where they “reasonably should know” that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm.

However, if an individual keeps their firearm in a “location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure,” the law does not apply to their situation.

Weinberg made the argument that the current state law is too vague as it does not define safe storage.

“The law does not define what ‘safe storage’ means when it mandates guns be stored safely,” Weinberg said at last week’s meeting. “This has led to deaths where a parent believed a gun may be safe in a closet or on top of a refrigerator, but in fact it was not safe.”

Weinberg’s resolution to draft an ordinance encouraged city staff to base the ordinance off of a similar model from Santa Clara County — which applies only to unincorporated territories. 

Under that model, residents are mandated to keep their firearms in a Department of Justice approved lockbox or trigger lock — a device that fits over the trigger of a firearm to prevent it from being shot — and would pay a $500 fine for a first-time offense, and a $1000 fine for a second time offense. 

However, it may ultimately be to the discretion of an officer who observes the violation whether to charge a fine or simply issue a warning.

“The goal is not to make money or make people hurt in the wallet,” Weinberg said in an interview. “The goal is to encourage people to use trigger locks and use them safely. I would be happy if officers used their discretion to only issue a warning, if that is what it takes for someone to comply with the ordinance.”

During the council meeting, Mayor Neysa Fligor pointed out questions that arose surrounding enforcement of the potential ordinance.

“This is a law that would not be enforced through aggressive police activity, it would be enforced through code enforcement,” Weinberg said. “More than anything else the ordinance establishes that this is the policy in the city, and the vast majority of people do their best to follow the law. Maybe that is enough to motivate them.”

While the majority of the council supported Weinberg’s resolution to draft a motion, Councilwoman Anita Enander was the sole dissenter, citing a lack of “applicable” arguments and a low number of local incidents of gun violence.

“I do not believe that in Los Altos we would be doing anything useful by passing this ordinance, beyond the responsibility that our citizens already take,” Enander said at the council meeting. “I do admire Councilmember Weinberg’s arguments but many of them I find not applicable. I do not believe that this ordinance will change tragedy and suicide in Los Altos one bit.”

Police Chief Andy Galea was also present at the meeting, and was unable to point to any recent case of a juvenile accessing a firearm in the last twelve years. He did, however, mention multiple cases of accidental discharge — which usually occurred while an individual was cleaning their firearm.

“A friend of mine had a teenager who tried to commit suicide with a bottle of pills,” Weinberg said. “If that teenager had had access to a gun, they would probably be dead. The teenager decided to live, but a gun would not have given that teenager an opportunity to change their mind.”

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