Gun Safety in Montgomery

August 09, 1991

Stepping in where state legislators have feared to tread two-years running, a Montgomery County councilman is proposing a local bill aimed at keeping firearms away from children. The bill is a virtual clone of a little-publicized law Baltimore's City Council passed in May. Iowa, Connecticut and Virginia also have enacted comparable measures -- all deriving from a 1989 Florida law.

It's encouraging to see local lawmakers in the state's two largest political jurisdictions tackling gun-control measures. That's especially true with state and federal legislators so timorous in dealing with this nation's deadly use of guns.

The Montgomery bill would impose civil fines of up to $500 for anyone leaving a usable gun -- or ammunition -- within easy access of a child 17 or younger. Because enforcement would be difficult, advocates say the bill's real import would be teaching and reinforcing common-sense gun safety. Under the measure, county police would develop material on how to safely store guns and ammunition. It would be disseminated through schools, civic groups and other organizations. Gun shop owners would be required to publicize safety methods and offer trigger locks when they sell weapons. The bill, backed by the nine-member council's seven Democrats, is set for a public hearing next month.

Councilman Derick Berlage said a child dies in a firearms accident every day in the U.S. Federal health statistics indicate 10 Americans are killed in gun accidents, suicides or murders each day.

Predictably, the Montgomery council already is hearing from tiresome National Rifle Association-types arguing that more gun laws are unnecessary. Others may diminish the potential of the Montgomery legislation -- and Baltimore City's law -- because it is peripheral to banning or reducing the number of guns. But that's quibbling.

Not only are gun-related criminal activities so high that they require serious attention, but accidental shootings -- especially involving children -- have reached that crisis point, too. Earlier this year, Maryland legislators were told that six children have been killed and five wounded in gun accidents over the past three years.

This prevention-oriented bill aims sensibly at averting tragedies. That's why it passed unanimously in Baltimore City, why it should pass in Montgomery County, and why other local government leaders should speak up on gun safety, too.

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