The executives of Maryland's two most populous counties said yesterday that they will propose local laws requiring gun dealers to include a childproof trigger lock with every handgun they sell.
With national gun control advocate Sarah Brady by their side, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry said at a news conference that children must be protected from shooting themselves or others with guns they find at home.
"Surely if we are going to require child safety seats in cars, we should require child safety locks on handguns. The issue is not gun violence, but gun safety," Duncan said.
The laws would compel the 194 federally licensed gun dealers in Prince George's and Montgomery to sell or give handgun buyers key-operated trigger locks, which cost under $20. Violators could be punished by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"The cost in dollars is low; the price in human carnage is high," said Curry. "We will do everything we can to take care of our children."
In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Clinton said he would push for a federal law to require safety locks on all guns. Nationally, only a handful of jurisdictions have enacted trigger-lock laws. Maryland gun owners must keep weapons out of the reach of children, but do not have to use a trigger lock.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.2 million latch-key children have access to loaded and unlocked guns. Nationally, 16 children under the age of 19 are killed by guns every day, according to Handgun Control Inc. The police departments of Prince George's and Montgomery counties were unable to provide statistics on the number of children injured or killed by gunfire.
In the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 4,587 handguns were sold in Montgomery, 3,231 in Prince George's, according to state police records.
Brady, chairwoman of Handgun Control Inc., praised Curry and Duncan for "their leadership and vision." Brady and her husband, James, the former White House press secretary shot during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, have campaigned for tougher gun laws.
"A trigger lock costs just $10.95," she said. "That's a small price to pay for possibly saving a child's life."
But Sanford M. Abrams, vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, said the Curry-Duncan proposal is worthless because "you can't legislate against stupidity."
"All firearms dealers sell and some even give away trigger locks to their customers," Abrams said. "We cannot, however, visit their homes and make certain that customers are actually using them."
Instead, the dealers' group is urging the state to give a $100 tax credit to gun owners who buy a safe or locker for their weapons.