Gun owners in Mountain View will soon be required to safely lock away their firearms under a new citywide ordinance.
In a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 22, the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance laying out how guns must be stored when unattended in homes or vehicles.
The measure comes more than two years after the council agreed to develop a firearm safety policy following the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July 2019 that killed three people and wounded 17 others. Since then, the council has explored options to improve gun safety within the city, according to a staff report.
Back in January 2020, the council explored several other gun regulation policies, including banning people selling firearms out of homes or imposing location-based restrictions on where guns can be sold, which it chose not to pursue. The council did agree to draft an ordinance prohibiting the possession of firearms on all city property, which was adopted in April 2021. And in June 2021, the council added development of a safe gun storage ordinance to its work plan, according to a staff report.
The policy is aimed at improving public safety by making it less likely for gun-related fatalities and injuries — both accidental and intentional — to occur.
Studies show that storing unloaded firearms in a safe manner can decrease the risk for suicide. Research also indicates that the vast majority of guns used in youth suicides, unintentional shootings involving youth, or school shootings perpetrated by minors come from the minor's home or the homes of relatives or friends, according to staff.
Other local communities, including Sunnyvale, Los Altos, San Jose, Palo Alto, Morgan Hill and unincorporated Santa Clara County, already require the safe storage of firearms in residences.
In California, it is unlawful to store firearms in a manner in which a child is "likely" to gain access without permission, but the law doesn't provide further guidance on what exactly constitutes safe gun storage. Mountain View's ordinance aims to clearly tell residents what constitutes safe storage: the firearm needs to be in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock, according to the city.
Under the new ordinance all firearms in residences must be stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock unless they are being carried or in the close proximity and control of someone.
In unattended vehicles, firearms must be stored in a locked trunk or container. For vehicles with four wheels and no trunk, guns must be in a locked container affixed to the vehicle and out of view. For vehicles with fewer than four wheels and no trunk, it has to be kept in a locked container that is permanently affixed to the vehicle. Firearms cannot be stored overnight in an unattended vehicle.
Violations of the ordinance will be considered misdemeanors once the law takes effect.
When it comes to enforcement, police officers in Mountain View won't proactively check to see if people are in compliance with the ordinance, but they will have discretion to cite or arrest someone found in violation, whether arising from contact with that person for another lawful reason, if someone reports a violation, or if an incident occurs.
In a public comment, Susie MacLean, a board member of the organization Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic (SAFE), a nonprofit for the medical community to advocate against gun violence, said that only about 35% of California firearm owners store all firearms in the safest way -- locked and unloaded.
"By passing this ordinance and following through with a public education effort to improve safe storage, we will be able to save lives," she said.
A woman who identified herself only as Karen said that she had lost a child to gun violence and urged the City Council to pass the safe gun storage ordinance in Mountain View "to prevent another family from suffering the loss of their dearly loved one."
Lisa Henry, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and a Mountain View resident, said it was urgent to pass the ordinance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, there has been a 43% increase in the unintentional deaths of small children and a 9% increase in teen suicides.
Of the eight people who spoke in public comments about the ordinance, only one did not fully support it. Charles Prael, who identified as a member of the shooting community in the South Bay and a Mountain View resident, said he had concerns about how the ordinance would impact the defensive use of guns and a court case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court that could open the city up to litigation. He recommended the city meet with gun rights organizations to "see if there is a way to make the intent of the ordinance work within the letter of the law and within the U.S. Constitution."
Assistant City Attorney Megan Marevich said that safe gun storage ordinances had survived constitutional challenges, and that she wasn't concerned that Mountain View's ordinance would be overturned by a constitutional challenge.
Council members expressed support for the ordinance, and with several adding that they're hoping to push for further gun safety legislation in the future.
"I think we have to continue to push on every single front that we can ... the alternative is unthinkable. I hope the council will continue to create a wall of safety around our communities for young people and for everyone in our community," said council member Sally Lieber.
"We've just all been devastated for many, many years with report after report after report of incidental shootings that happened with unsecured guns and mass shootings, and it's really a national tragedy," council member Pat Showalter said. "Keeping these guns out of harm's way will be effective, at least here, and that's what we have control over."
Vice Mayor Alison Hicks talked about how she lost a friend in middle school to an unsafely stored gun. "I will be thinking of Leo when I vote for this motion," she said. "I'm particularly looking forward to public education around this. That's what would have saved my friend Leo."
"I hope in the coming years we can continue to work on this issue and promote gun safety," council member Margaret Abe-Koga said. "I think there's more work to be done."