Temporary Firearm Transfers
Storing guns outside the home when someone is at risk can be lifesaving
Access to firearms increases the likelihood that suicide attempts, as well as other forms of violence, will be fatal.
Assessing a suicidal patient’s access to lethal means, including firearms, is a key part of the clinician’s role in suicide prevention.1,2 When someone at risk of suicide has access to a firearm, the voluntary, temporary transfer of firearms for the duration of the crisis can reduce the risk of harm. Patients and clinicians can work together to decide on appropriate options for storage outside the home during times of elevated risk. If a patient is acutely suicidal, further interventions like an involuntary mental health hold or a civil protective order may be warranted.
Impulsive acts are less likely to be fatal if guns are not accessible.
Reducing Access to Lethal Means
Lethal means counseling (or “lethal means safety”) has become a standard of care for clinicians who care for suicidal patients.1,2 The goal of lethal means counseling is to put time and distance between a person at risk of suicide and methods that are likely to be fatal. Temporary, voluntary storage of firearms outside the home for the duration of the risk is the preferred, safest option for patients or caregivers willing to collaborate with the clinician on safety planning. Secure storage of weapons in the home is less preferable, as it is not as safe as moving the firearms out of the home.
Transferring Firearms in California
State laws affect the options and procedures for voluntary, temporary transfer of firearms. In California, options include bringing firearms to a licensed retailer (such as a gun shop, shooting range, or pawn shop) or a local law enforcement agency, or temporarily transferring firearms to a trusted friend or family member living outside the at-risk person’s household.
In California, like most states, shooting ranges, retailers, and law enforcement agencies are permitted but not required to temporarily store firearms, and some may charge a fee. Research in other states suggests that a majority of these organizations are willing to store firearms when a firearm owner expresses concern about the mental stability of someone else in the home or reports being in personal crisis.3
In California, most transfers must go through a federally licensed firearm dealer. However, California law allows persons over the age of 18 to receive and hold firearms without a background check or a safety certification, for as long as reasonably necessary, if for the express purpose of preventing self-harm.4 Such transfers require that the recipient of firearms:
- is not a prohibited person
- store the firearm safely in their own home
- not use the firearm at any point while he or she is holding onto it
What You Can Do
For someone at elevated risk of harm or someone whose risk may become acute in the future, getting firearms out of the home can be lifesaving. By counseling patients or caregivers about options for temporary, voluntary transfers of guns to a trusted person or somewhere else, you can help put time and space between the person at risk and lethal means.
Temporary, voluntary transfers require collaboration from the at-risk person or the owner of the guns in the home and are intended to last for the duration of the period of heightened risk. Such transfers do not affect someone’s future ability to have guns. They may be especially useful when the at-risk person personally owns firearms because, in such cases, even firearms stored in the safest manner (i.e., unloaded and locked up) may be accessible to the firearm owner.
If a patient is at acute risk of harming themself, clinicians may need to take more immediate action to separate them from lethal means. Becoming familiar with local civil commitment laws or psychiatric interventions and options for firearm removal in times of crisis will help clinicians reduce at-risk patients’ access to lethal means.
Page last updated October 2020.
Click to view references
Learn more about potential interventions
If guns are kept in the home, storing them safely can prevent firearm injury.
Mental health holds can help people at risk of suicide or violence get into psychiatric care.
Protective orders can remove firearms from dangerous situations.
For more information, see these peer-reviewed articles.
Kelly, T., Brandspigel, S., Polzer, E., et al. (2020). Firearm Storage Maps: A Pragmatic Approach to Reduce Firearm Suicide During Times of Risk. Annals of Internal Medicine.
Allchin, A., Chaplin, V., & Horwitz, J. (2018). Limiting access to lethal means: Applying the social ecological model for firearm suicide prevention. Injury Prevention.
McCourt, A. D., & Vernick, J. S. (2018). Law, Ethics, and Conversations between Physicians and Patients about Firearms in the Home. AMA Journal of Ethics.
Barber, C., Frank, E., & Demicco, R. (2017). Reducing Suicides Through Partnerships Between Health Professionals and Gun Owner Groups—Beyond Docs vs Glocks. JAMA Internal Medicine.
McCourt, A. D., Vernick, J. S., Betz, M. E., et al. (2017). Temporary Transfer of Firearms From the Home to Prevent Suicide: Legal Obstacles and Recommendations. JAMA Internal Medicine.
Additional Resources on Temporary Firearm Transfers
CALM: Counseling on Access to Lethal Means
Training course provided by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) on how to reduce access to lethal means for people at risk for suicide.
Lock to Live
An online decision aid to support healthcare providers counsel patients on how to identify and find safe options to store lethal means during times of crisis.
Gun Storage Map
A map of Colorado gun storage options developed to help those seeking a temporary, voluntary location for firearm storage.
Means Matter: Recommendations for Clinicians
Recommendations for clinicians on lethal means counseling for patients at risk of suicide.
Prevent Firearm Suicide: Tools from EFSGV
EFSGV provides educational materials, initiatives, research, and resources for societal, community, relationship, and individual-level interventions for suicide prevention.
Is Your Safety On?
Talk with your friend or family member at risk of suicide about temporarily transferring their firearms. Adapted by the Utah Firearm Safety/Suicide Prevention Coalition in partnership with The Speedy Foundation.