Focus on home gun safety


January 31, 2003, 06:57 PM
Law enforcement agencies focus on home gun safety

Published: January 30, 2003

Of the News-Register

The second McMinnville Police Chief Wayne McFarlin walks into his home from work - before he greets his wife and three children, before he heads to the refrigerator for a snack, before he turns on the television set or does anything else whatsoever - he places his duty weapon in a gun safe with an electronic combination lock.

"I don't sit down until I go upstairs, take my gun off and lock it up," McFarlin said. "As a parent, you make sure you have a safe environment for your children. Securing my weapon is one aspect."

Their father's the chief of police, so you would think the McFarlin children - Ashley, 16, Alex, 14, and Ally, 7 - would know better than to ever put their hands on his .40-caliber Beretta. But he doesn't take chances. He can't. There's too much to risk losing.

"You can never assume kids know better," McFarlin said. "You never assume anyone knows better. You have to be vigilant about the safety of that weapon. With a single mistake, or lapse in judgment, you can have a tragic consequence."

That's just what happened Jan. 13 in the home of Clark County, Wash., sheriff's deputy Craig Randall.

His 13-year-old son, Matthew, fatally shot Emilee Joy, Randall's 10-year-old daughter, with the 9 mm Ruger P-85 he carries on the job.

The kids were alone in the family home in Battle Ground, Wash., with his loaded Ruger sitting on a high shelf in the master bedroom.

A fascination with guns had gotten two of his older sons into trouble with the law. Matthew had recently committed a burglary and been caught carrying his father's Ruger.

Terms of Matthew's probation expressly prohibited him from having any contact with firearms. However, he had been dry-firing an unloaded shotgun earlier in the day, before going to get the handgun from his parents' bedroom, according to the Vancouver Police Department.

Already, the boy has been charged with violating his probation by possessing a gun. And Vancouver police are asking that he be charged with first-degree manslaughter in his sister's death.

Randall apparently violated no sheriff's office policies by repeatedly failing to secure his service weapon, despite the tragic series of events that ensued.

However, Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas said that may change. He plans to consider adoption of a policy governing off-duty storage of duty weapons by department deputies.

The case has prompted the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office to begin developing a policy of its own on safe handgun storage, according to The Oregonian.

Locally, the Newberg Police Department addresses the issue this way in its safety regulations manual:

"Particular care shall be exercised in safely storing firearms while off duty to ensure they are not accessible to young children. Officers shall not store or leave a firearm in any place within the reach or easy access of a minor. While not in use, duty handguns will be stored in a safe and controlled manner as specified. Officers are responsible for the physical security of their weapons at all times."

McFarlin said his department has policies requiring officers to exercise the utmost caution in the handling and storage of service weapon. He said the means is not specified, but every officer is required to keep his firearm effectively secured during off-duty hours.

McFarlin said a majority of his officers take their weapons home, but some secure them in personal lockers at the station.

"Safety is constantly drilled into our staff," he said. "It's a state of mind. You can never be too safe."

Newly elected Yamhill County Sheriff Jack Crabtree echoed that, saying, "Our deputies are aware of the incident, and it should serve as a reminder of what can happen. We see too often what can happen when a firearm gets in the wrong hands.

"We expect our deputies to handle their firearms in the safest manner possible. When they're home, their weapons need to be secured safely. As a police officer, I would hope we're all securing our firearms and making our homes safer."

The sheriff's office does not have a written policy regarding how deputies shall secure their duty weapons at home. The agency just requires they use the best means available to get the job done.

Crabtree, a father of two, has a lockbox at home. He places his weapon in it out of habit when he is off duty.

He said his children also have had the importance of firearms safety drilled into them. When their parents are gone and friends are visiting, Crabtree trusts they will use their best judgment, factoring in what they have learned about firearm safety.

Newberg Police Chief Robert Tardiff said police officers should be well aware of the dangers associated with an unsecured weapon - more so than the average citizen.

He said his department has long provided cable locks to its officers, as have many other departments. He said he has a gun safe at home and stores his weapon in it whenever his grandchildren come over to visit.

Lt. Marti West, commander of the McMinnville office of the Oregon State Police, said she would use a gun safe if she had children around.

"My husband and I don't have children at home," she said. "If there were children around, my weapon would be in a safe. In that case, I would never take a chance.

"We have discussed the issue internally, agencywide," West said. "It's the responsibility of each trooper to secure his or her weapon safely."

She said she stores her gun and ammunition separately as an added precaution. She keeps her weapon in one closet and her ammunition in another, she said.

Like West, Yamhill Police Chief Gordon Rise stores his gun in the closet when he is off duty. He keeps it loaded, though.

"It's one of those things where if I get paged during the middle of the night, and I go on a call, I don't want to be fumbling around for the ammunition," he said. "Fortunately, I have no young children at home."

He said his department maintains a gun safe at city hall for use of its one full-time officer and three reserves.

Like the sheriff's office, the State Police and Yamhill Police Department, have no written policy related to this issue. They expect their troopers and officers to use their best judgment regarding how they secure their duty weapons while off duty.

Tardiff, who represents Oregon police chiefs on the Bureau of Police Safety Standards and Training Board, the state certification agency for law enforcement personnel, said gun safety is also taught at the police academy.

He said Section 3 of the BPSST lesson plan addresses three aspects of off-duty firearm safety - methods of securing a firearm in the home, the role of education in home firearm safety and the loaded handgun in the home.

Still, the recent tragedy wasn't the first of its kind in the region.

Just two years ago, the 13-year-old son of a SWAT officer from Redmond, Wash., accidentally shot his best friend with his father's .45-caliber duty weapon. He found it in the closet.

Recently retired Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle told The Oregonian he became concerned about the issue many years ago. He said he started issuing free lockboxes to members of his department back in the '90s.

Noelle said he ordered 600 of them, each with a five-button combination lock and a latch allowing them to be bolted down.

When deputies came to pick them up, they "came in with pictures of their kids and said, 'This is why I am doing this,'" he recalled. "It was pretty moving to me."

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January 31, 2003, 07:36 PM
My only question after reading how all these LEOs lock up their weapons when off duty when at home. (I certainly hope they are armed when they leave their homes) What do they do if the BGs come a calling, call time out so they can run to their safe or lockbox and take time to reload? HOW STUPID


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