Omaha police review how guns stored after shooting spree

OMAHA, Nebraska Tue Jan 11, 2011 6:24pm EST

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OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Police are reviewing how off duty officers store their weapons after a student used his detective father's police handgun in a school shooting spree last week.

Robert Butler, Jr, retrieved his father's gun from a closet on Wednesday and shot and killed high school assistant principal Vicki Kaspar, who had earlier suspended the boy from school for driving his car onto school athletic fields. He also wounded principal Curtis Case before killing himself.

The debate over the nation's gun laws has intensified since Saturday's shooting in Arizona in which six people were killed and U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was among 14 others who were wounded.

Omaha police said the 17-year-old Butler took the gun from his father's bedroom closet while his father was out for less than an hour running an errand. The gun was not in a gun safe that the detective owned, and authorities have not said whether the gun was secured with a trigger lock.

Omaha's policy has much in common with other departments around the nation and has been approved by the Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditation Standards.

"Officers will not store or leave a firearm in any place within the reach or easy access of a minor or unauthorized individual," the department's policy reads.

There is no set national policy on how police officers must secure their weapons, but Omaha's is somewhat vague by comparison.

Some law enforcement agencies require officers' guns to be stored in locked boxes or secured with trigger locks. Some require officers to lock service weapons in their lockers at the police station when their shifts end.

Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes said officers are trained and encouraged to use gun and trigger locks or gun safes to store their weapons, "but that is an individual's responsibility to do so."

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends departments make officers responsible for their weapons when not on their person by using trigger locks, safes, or other means.

Omaha's department requires officers to buy their own weapons. But officers may seek reimbursement for up to $533 worth of work-related purchases annually, which can include weapons, trigger-locks, ammunition, handcuffs, uniforms, ties and flashlights.

Gun safes had not been eligible for reimbursement, but Hayes reversed that policy the day after the school shooting.

Hayes said police officers are not any different than anybody else in society, and do not expect their children to commit violent crimes.

Nebraska State Senator Brad Ashford said he plans to sponsor legislation to hold gun owners responsible for leaving loaded weapons within access of minors.

(Editing by Andrew Stern and Greg McCune)

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