New Jersey is the fifth state in the nation to establish a database of gun retailers it has identified as willing to offer free, temporary, and legal storage of firearms that residents wish to keep outside their homes, for any number of reasons.

The New Jersey Firearm Storage Map is a collaborative effort by the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center, based at Rutgers University, and the state Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Michael Anestis, the Center's executive director and associate professor with the Rutgers School of Public Health, said the main goal of the map is to increase safety, in the same way we might hand someone our car keys when we've had too much to drink.

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So the reasons for out-of-home storage could include, for example, suicidal ideation — which Anestis, as a clinical psychologist, said he hoped a person would be able to talk about if they needed help. But they would not have to disclose that, or any other potential purpose, to the site they select to hold their firearm.

"It could be something that is sort of crisis-related, like a mental health crisis, but it could also simply be, you know, you're renovating your home and there's going to be a bunch of strangers in your house when you're not there, and you might just feel like that's a risk," Anestis said.

New Jersey has a provision called an "extreme risk protection order," in which a family member or other person close to someone who may be in danger of harming themselves or others can petition a court to remove that person's access to a gun. That order remains in place until the court determines the risk has decreased.

This system, by contrast, seems to have more in common with the Garden State's self-exclusion program for compulsive gamblers.

"The map is voluntary," Anestis said. "This is someone saying that, on my own terms, 'I'm going to store my firearm outside of my home', for whatever reason, and they don't necessarily have to disclose personal reasons."

One concern Anestis said has been mutual between gun owners and retailers is liability, which those maintaining the map will continue to focus on as they contact more and more gun shops to see if they are interested in joining the list.

"If I store this person's firearm and then I give it back to them, and they for instance tragically kill themselves with that firearm, will that gunshot be held accountable for that, when it is very difficult for someone to know who is and is not truly at risk," Anestis said.

For now, Anestis and his fellow researchers are working to identify the areas of highest-percentage gun ownership in New Jersey, to make the map more representative of the state's needs.

If expanded and used properly, he said, the value of this tool cannot be overstated.

"We really do need more participation," Anestis said. "Right now there are 12 sites, and we are grateful they've been willing to be listed. They're concentrated mostly in the northern part of the state. So it's not just that we need more sites. We need sites to be distributed geographically across the state."

Any retailer wishing to be added to the map can email njgvrc@sph.rutgers.edu.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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