Armed - How do I know if it's dangerous?
August 8, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

What are the next step(s) I should take regarding a recent incident with my neighbors, a handgun being held in my apartment, and combat-related PTSD.

We are friendly with the couple that lives in the apartment below us. Let's call the woman Sue and the man John. They have a roommate, a friend of John's named Frank. John and Frank are both Iraq/Afghanistan war vets. Everyone, including my SO and me, is in their late twenties or early thirties. Sue has lived in the apartment for four or five years, while John moved in over a year ago. Frank is the most recent move-in at about five months - we're not that close with him.

Last weekend, there was an incident that resulted in Sue calling the police. She was afraid of John huring himself, not her. She texted me today: "I thought they would have helped. The didn't. They couldn't. They only offered up a domestic [violence] hotline. [John] needs help with his PTSD."

After the police left, Sue and John called a VA hotline together. The woman at the hotline said any guns in the house should be moved to a safe spot. Sue came to my apartment carrying a pillow. She said something like, "There's something in this pillow that really shouldn't be in the apartment right now. [Your SO] might know about it, I don't know if you do." At first I had no idea what she was talking about, but as I took the pillow, I recognized the plasic handgun case inside.

I told her I understood and that it could remain at our house as long as it needed to. After a day of thinking, I'm beginning to regret this statement. I'm not nervous because OMG IT'S A GUN, but because it's SOMEONE ELSE'S gun.

It is a Colt .45 semi-automatic handgun. There are two eight-round clips, each loaded with six hollow point bullets. There is a clip in the gun, so I assume it is loaded with the same. There is no lock on the case. Upon examining the gun this morning, I found the purchase receipt. The gun belongs to the roommate, Frank, not John as I had originally assumed. I do not know whether or not it is registered and documented per Chicago's handgun laws.

I am seeking information on the following:

* What is legality of my holding the gun in my apartment while it poses a threat to occupancts of their apartment? I do not have a FOID card and have never owned a firearm.
* Is the hollow point ammo illegal, specifically in Chicago? I've always thought it was illegal for civillian use and haven't been able to confirm/refute this online.
* If the rounds are illegal, what is the best way to report it? It's an odd situation to explain to the police - I swear, I'm just holding the gun for a friend!
* How do I know it's safe to give the gun back to Sue or Frank, even if Frank may still keep it in the apartment? I'd never give it to John and have mentioned to Sue that the case should be locked and/or ammo should be stored separately.
* What resources are available for overcoming or supporting someone with combat-related PTSD? There have been a lot of negative stories in the past few years about the VA's handling of PTSD in returning troops. John and Sue have an appointment with the VA counselor, but I'm hoping for non-VA recommendations.

I will try to clarify things through the mods and have a throwaway email (askme.anon123@gmail.com). I have to post anonymously because my username is tied to my real name on several sites.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (25 answers total)
 
Why can't you give it back to Sue to give to someone else to hold? This doesn't need to be your problem. There are all sorts of reasons someone might not want a gun in their house.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:14 PM on August 8, 2011


Step 1: get it into a not-loaded state.

Step 2: suggest to Sue that she put it in a safe deposit box at the bank. That's what my mother does with her (unloaded) handgun she still has from her military days. That way it's quite safe from John, but it's also not someone else's problem.
posted by olinerd at 1:15 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you're not sure how to unload it, don't try.

Never, ever point the barrel at anything you don't want to shoot, even if you THINK it's unloaded. I repeat--whether or not it's unloaded, never point it at anything you don't want to be exploded into a million pieces.

I can't help you with the rest, sorry. Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:19 PM on August 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I'd skip olinerd's first step, as well.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:21 PM on August 8, 2011


I would take the clip off and take the round out of the chamber. I would make sure the safety was on too. Then I would put it back in its case and put the case somewhere that is not easily accessed. Make it so that you have to move furniture or boxes or a lot of crap to get to it. Make sure anyone who lives with you is aware of it. Then forget about it until Sue asks for it back.
posted by AugustWest at 1:23 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please get the gun out of your house. Pay for a safety deposit box yourself, if you have to, but get it out of your house -- call Sue up and make the offer, but tell her that you're uncomfortable keeping it in your house. I'm nthing that if you are not 100% sure that you know how to unload it, don't try.
posted by brainmouse at 1:26 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do not attempt to unload the gun yourself. Surely you have a friend who has at least some experience with guns who can unload it for you.
posted by grouse at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, let's start with the first question: Do you know anything about firearms? Do you know how to safely unload it (both the clip and the chamber)? If the answer to either of these is "No" you need to get the gun out of your house.

Next, you need the answers to your questions either from the police or a local gun advocacy group. You do not need to disclose that you have the gun in your possession. Simply state that a friend has asked you to hold one because of the possibility of danger to a householder and you want to know "the right thing to do."

I do not support your handing the gun back with the knowledge that you have about the situation. If you don't want to be responsible for it, contact Sue and explain that and ask her to find another person to hold it. Agree to pass the gun directly to that person.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:28 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


*I'm pretty sure that it is illegal for you to have it without an FOID

*Hollow point ammunition is very common (more common than not, actually) and is not illegal

You should explain to Sue that you can't have the gun because you don't have an FOID and suggest that she puts it in a safe deposit box or somewhere else.
posted by atrazine at 1:33 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, this sounds like a hot potato of criminal liability. I'm not a lawyer much less your lawyer but this sounds like all kinds of crazy bad. You really should get the handgun out of your place ASAP.

You've been put in a difficult position. I'd be afraid that contacting the police could have all sorts of negative consequences for everyone involved. If it were me, I'd get Sue up to my place, hand her the pillowcase with the gun in it and tell her there's just no way you can have it in your apartment and she should find somewhere to store it. Worrying about the legality of the next place she tries to store it is her problem, not yours.

Then never, ever, ever mention it again to anyone.
posted by Justinian at 1:38 PM on August 8, 2011


I do not support your handing the gun back with the knowledge that you have about the situation. If you don't want to be responsible for it, contact Sue and explain that and ask her to find another person to hold it. Agree to pass the gun directly to that person.

See, to me this is potentially really bad advice. You shouldn't have this handgun in the first place. Handing it off to a third party sounds bad. Contacting a lawyer would actually be the safest way to go here, but I realize that's probably not something you'd consider because of expense and so on. But handing what may well be an illegal (for you) handgun off to a third party? Ugh.
posted by Justinian at 1:42 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In reference to helping John: suggest calling the PTSD Hotline @ 1-800-273-TALK (Press "1" for vets) and speak to someone while he is awaiting VA referral. It's best to talk to someone sooner rather than later. After two tours in Iraq and a third in Afghanistan, I know how important it is to talk about it when it comes up, as opposed to "when the VA gets to it". The VA isn't bad, just overwhelmed and under-staffed.

Get John help sooner rather than later.
posted by Master Gunner at 1:44 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Go with Frank (or frank and Sue) to the bank, and have HIM rent a safe deposit box. You cannot have any inkling of "ownership" of this gun unless you are properly licensed.
posted by Gungho at 1:44 PM on August 8, 2011


Here are the Chicago handgun rules and regulations.

I am not a lawyer or expert in Chicago law, but in summary: it is illegal for you to have the gun/ammo in Chicago unless it is registered to you. "It is unlawful for any person to carry or possess a firearm without a CFP." "It is unlawful for any person to carry or possess any ammunition in the city, unless the person: (1) has a valid CFP and registration certificate for a firearm of the same gauge or caliber as the ammunition possessed..."

The hollow-point ammo is not illegal (the regs prohibit "any armor piercing or .50 caliber ammunition", and "any metal piercing bullets", which hollow-points are not.)

I would suggest giving it back to Sue immediately, with the caveat that she should figure out a safe place for it to be. I think the suggestion about a safety deposit box is an excellent idea. Tell her to have Frank unload the weapon and store the ammo, locking the empty gun in the gun case with no ammo or magazine inside. Then she and Frank can take it to the bank -- technically she can't be carrying it around without a permit, either.
posted by vorfeed at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2011


There are several tutorials for how to unload a semi-automatic pistol. I thought this was a good demo.

Find another location to safely house the gun. I like the idea of a safety deposit box.
posted by cior at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2011


If putting the gun in a safe-deposit box is not an immediate option, get a trigger lock and install it. Call Sue and say "look, I've put a trigger lock on the gun. I'm not comfortable keeping the gun around here—I really need to give it back you you—but I will keep the key if you want."
posted by adamrice at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2011


p.s. hollow-points are actually safer than regular ammo ("full-metal jacket") for self-defense use -- FMJ ammo is really only safe (in civilian use, at least) for target practice, because it is not designed to stop when it hits someone, and can therefore zing through the target into other rooms/houses/etc.

p.p.s. on preview: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PUT A TRIGGER LOCK ON A GUN WHICH MAY BE LOADED! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO UNLOAD A GUN UNLESS YOU ARE FULLY CONFIDENT IN ITS OPERATION! You can safely put a small padlock on the gun case, if it has a place for one. Otherwise, if you want this gun to be unloaded/locked/whatever, contact the owner or another person who knows what they're doing with firearms. Handguns aren't rocket science, but they are dangerous, and watching a youtube video about some other gun is really not going to cut it.
posted by vorfeed at 1:59 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Mod note: From the OP:
My father was an avid shooter while I was growing up and I am familiar with basic gun safety. However, I've never handled *this* gun before and I never considered trying to unload it. We have no children in the house and I was happy shelving it loaded.

I have spoken with Sue and she has picked up the gun. She has not told me where it will be going and I was not home with the SO when she came to collect it. My SO did not ask for fear of prying too much.

Please keep the comments regarding the PTSD coming and thank you for each comment posted thus far.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:15 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Iraq and Afghanistan Vets of America page with phone numbers for "get help now" - these are links to other programs that can help:

The VA suicide prevention hotline, mentioned above: a vet or family member/friend can dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press "1" to be routed to a professional counselor at a VA call center near you.

Also the National Veterans Foundation serves the crisis management, information and referral needs of all U.S. Veterans and their families through its toll-free helpline: 1-888-777-4443 (available daily 9AM-9PM PST).

If you're close to them, you might be able to do some calling and digging for resources in the Chicago area that they might be too stressed to look for.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:20 PM on August 8, 2011




For Chicago - specific legal questions, call your local Legal Aid group.

* How do I know it's safe to give the gun back to Sue or Frank, even if Frank may still keep it in the apartment? I'd never give it to John and have mentioned to Sue that the case should be locked and/or ammo should be stored separately.
You are obviously calm and rational, Sue was right to trust you. Get help getting the gun unloaded, and see if you can get a trigger lock for it, or put it in a locked location. Sue gave you the gun, and I would tell Sue that you can hold it for X days, and then she must find a new place for it.

* What resources are available for overcoming or supporting someone with combat-related PTSD? There have been a lot of negative stories in the past few years about the VA's handling of PTSD in returning troops. John and Sue have an appointment with the VA counselor, but I'm hoping for non-VA recommendations.
The VA is slow, and bureaucratic, but my brother got a lot of PTSD help from them, after avoiding them for a long time due to the bad reports. I think the most acceptable help will come from Vets, so the VA is a good place to start. Can you visit the VA? They may have a bulletin board or other resource for finding groups. There's likely drug &/or alcohol involved, too, so AA may be a good resource. The phone book usually has community resource listings, and may list help for veterans. Thank you for helping; it's genuinely kind of you.
posted by theora55 at 4:01 PM on August 8, 2011


I think you made the right call on the gun, OP (obviously) and it looks like you're also trying to be a friend. I can't help much with the PTSD question, though, but good luck.
posted by Justinian at 4:19 PM on August 8, 2011


PTSD is very treatable and John should see great improvement after he gets himself into the VA for some counseling and meds. It sounds to me that Sue is really going to need support if she is trying to convince him to get to the VA.

There are a couple of reasons why vets choose not to go or blow it off; 1. PTSD symptoms can fluctuate or not always be present, so during an upswing the person will feel like they can do it on their own and that it's just a passing thing. 2. Vets often refuse to go in because they have buddies who've been seriously wounded and so don't want to clog up the system... there's a guilt/stigma thing.

The only advice I can give is to be generally supportive and maybe, if you're close enough with them, ask if the VA is "hooking him up".

Best of luck to all involved!
posted by snsranch at 4:49 PM on August 8, 2011


Here is the list of PTSD resources from the VA. I would strongly recommend that you call the 1800-273-TALK number listed above, but this page lists some other resources including the Vets Centers that may be an extra source of support. Locally, here is the contact information for Returning Vets Program at the Jesse Brown VA, who may be able to link you up with local resources. Thank you for caring about your friend, and please let him know that there are a lot of us who are so grateful for his service and hope he is able to find the support he deserves very, very soon.
posted by goggie at 4:50 PM on August 8, 2011


This post from Tom Ricks's blog has some good resources about Veteran's issues.
posted by Horatius at 7:23 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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