Gun Owners: Beware Negligent Storage Liability

Gun ownership in Pennsylvania carries with it certain safety obligations, and these go beyond simply not pointing your gun at others. In addition to the obligation to transport and use your gun carefully and safely, you also have an obligation to store your gun in a safe and secure manner.

Guns are potentially dangerous instruments, just like a knife, an axe, a chainsaw, a razor blade, poisonous substances, flammable liquids and so on. They are recognized as such at common law. Accordingly, the law requires that guns must be kept and stored safely so that they cannot be accessed by persons who are not able to appreciate and protect against the dangerous risks they present. This includes:

  • Children
  • Mentally challenged persons
  • Intoxicated or impaired persons.

In addition, certain classes of persons are legally prohibited from possessing firearms, such as convicted felons.

The obligation to handle and store guns safely has nothing whatsoever to do with the so-called constitutional right to bear arms; in fact, it is a necessary consequence of it. Gun ownership is generally lawful – but it carries with it a heightened obligation to prevent injury to others through accident or misuse.

At a minimum, guns, whether they be handguns or long arms, should be stored out of reach, out of sight, preferably in a locked container or cabinet and with trigger locks on each gun. A higher duty of care will apply in households with children, mentally challenged persons or persons with substance abuse or psychological issues. It is also advisable to store guns and ammunition in separate locations so that the two cannot come together easily. Leaving a loaded gun in an easily accessible location is not only negligent, it is reckless. A finding of recklessness can lead to the imposition of punitive damages if someone is injured by a loaded gun left in an accessible location.


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