Gun-makers to put child-safety locks on most U.S. arms Industry under pressure averts battle in Congress

October 09, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- After quietly negotiating with the Clinton administration, the manufacturers of most handguns in the United States plan to gather today at the White House to announce that they will provide child-safety locks with their firearms by the end of next year, a senior White House official and a representative of the gun-makers said yesterday.

The announcement, which will ensure that about 80 percent of handguns made in the United States are sold with locks, is expected to produce the unlikely spectacle of President Clinton, who has sought throughout his presidency to restrict access to firearms, standing in the Rose Garden beside executives from more than a half-dozen gun-makers.

The firearms industry has been under pressure from state governments and the Clinton administration to reduce accidental shootings, which killed 185 children in 1994, according to the most recent federal statistics. This year, two large firearms companies began providing such locks.

The deal averts an expected battle in Congress over legislation mandating the locks. Clinton had called for such a law in his State of the Union message. In March, he directed federal agencies to require safety locks on every handgun issued to any law enforcement agent.

"That, in many ways, started the process of examining the issue," said Richard Feldman, executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, an Atlanta organization that represents gun-makers, retailers and distributors.

"We very much want to be the responsible industry and [to be] perceived that way by the public," said Feldman, who represented the industry in talks with the White House.

Without White House action, the industry would have offered the locks anyway, Feldman said, "but not as quickly." He predicted that other manufacturers would soon join the effort.

Clinton has tried to make gun control a hallmark of his administration. Although some critics have dismissed his push for child-safety locks as a trifling proposal, White House aides believe that the locks not only are effective but reinforce Clinton's image as caring for families.

Child-advocacy groups say the locks could significantly reduce accidental gunshot deaths and injuries among children. Each year, an estimated 1,500 children 14 or younger are treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional firearm injuries, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign.

Bill Powers, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said his group had objected to "one-size-fits-all government mandates" on the use of locks.

"If a gun manufacturer wants to enter into a business deal with a trigger-lock company," Powers said, "I guess that's between the two of them."

"If President Clinton really cared about reducing firearms access" among children, Powers said, he would "use the bully pulpit of the White House to urge everyone to take an NRA firearms safety course."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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