Federal Law on Locking Devices

Posted on May 21, 2012

In October 2005, as part of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, Congress passed and the President signed into law legislation making it unlawful for any licensed importer, manufacturer or dealer to sell or transfer any handgun unless the transferee is provided with a secure gun storage or safety device.1 A “secure gun storage or safety device” is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(34) as:

(A) a device that, when installed on a firearm, is designed to prevent the firearm from being operated without first deactivating the device;

(B) a device incorporated into the design of the firearm that is designed to prevent the operation of the firearm by anyone not having access to the device; or

(C) a safe, gun safe, gun case, lock box, or other device that is designed to be or can be used to store a firearm and that is designed to be unlocked only by means of a key, a combination, or other similar means.

The Act creates various exceptions, including transfers to other licensees, law enforcement officers, or federal, state or local agencies. The legislation does not apply to transfers by private sellers, and does not require that transferees use the device.

The Act also immunizes any person who is in lawful possession and control of a handgun and who uses a secure gun storage or safety device with the handgun, from a “qualified civil liability action.” “Qualified civil liability action” is defined as a civil action for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a handgun by a third party if: 1) the handgun was accessed by another person who did not have the authorization of the lawful possessor; and 2) at the time the handgun was accessed it had been made inoperable by the use of a secure gun storage or safety device.2

For more information about the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, see the Immunity Statutes section.

There are no federal standards for locking devices. The federal Consumer Product Safety Act, which imposes health and safety standards on consumer products, exempts firearms and ammunition from its requirements.3 Therefore, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has no authority to mandate that firearms include locking devices. Locking devices themselves, however, are not exempt, and therefore the CPSC has the authority to adopt national safety standards for locking devices. It has not done so.

Click here to view additional information about locking devices, including background information and state and local laws on the topic.

  1. 18 U.S.C. § 922(z). []
  2. 18 U.S.C. § 922(z)(3). []
  3. 15 U.S.C. § 2052(a)(1)(ii)(E), referencing 26 U.S.C. § 4181. []