Bill requires safety locks on all guns Schmoke likely to sign measure to protect children

'It will save lives'

Some say move would hurt owners' efforts at defense

March 03, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

New gun buyers in Baltimore will be forced to purchase child safety locks for their weapons under a bill passed last night by the City Council.

The measure, which is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, would make the city the third local government in the state requiring child locks aimed at reducing accidental shooting deaths among children.

"In the long run, it will save lives," Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said after the vote.

Supporters of the measure lauded the city for the bill, which is expected to save the lives of at least three city children a year.

"This is really, really important because it is something that we can put in the hands of parents," said Nancy Fenton, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

More than 90 percent of accidental shootings of children throughout the nation are directly linked to an unlocked, loaded gun in the house. About 1,500 children under age 15 are taken to hospital emergency rooms each year where more than 200 die, according to the nonprofit National Safe Kids Campaign.

Maryland passed a 1992 law that imposes a fine of $1,000 if a loaded weapon is accessible to minors. Prince George's and Montgomery counties also passed measures requiring child locks on all handguns sold.

Baltimore's law would be tougher, requiring that locks be required on all guns sold, including rifles. Penalties for violations would include a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The cost of the locks range from $18 to $93.

Gun rights advocates have opposed the legislation, saying that it would hurt the ability of gun owners to protect themselves. But gun dealers in Baltimore last night said they're ready for the law.

"We ask everybody if they want a lock," said John Scherman, manager of Northeast Gun and Pawn Shop in Baltimore. "The problem is going to be making sure people use them."

Fifteen states have adopted laws making it a crime for adults to leave loaded guns around children. A study published in October in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that such laws reduced accidental fatal shootings by 23 percent.

"This is intended to save the lives of children in Baltimore City," Fenton said.

Maryland residents own 1 million guns and purchase 33,000 handguns each year. In addition to requiring the purchase of the locks, city health leaders said the law would serve as a reminder to gun buyers to keep the weapons away from children.

"It's a nice step and a small step," said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Peter Beilenson, whose department drafted the bill. "Obviously, we need to do more."

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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