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

Temporarily storing guns outside the home may be appropriate for patients who are not at acutely elevated risk of self-harm, but whose risk may increase in the future, and who want to collaborate to reduce their access to lethal means. Parents or caregivers of those at risk for self-harm should also be counseled on the importance of reducing the at-risk person’s access to lethal means, including firearms, which may be accomplished by temporarily transferring guns outside of the home for the duration of the period of heightened risk. Clinicians should be familiar with local options for temporary transfer, and feel comfortable initiating these conversations and providing resources.

Click to view references

  1. Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, & Action Alliance. (2012, September). 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action.
  2. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Means Matter.
  3. Runyan, C. W., Brooks-Russell, A., Brandspigel, S., et al. (2017). Law Enforcement and Gun Retailers as Partners for Safely Storing Guns to Prevent Suicide: A Study in 8 Mountain West States. American Journal of Public Health.
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 27882 et seq.

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.

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