Gun panel urges locks on triggers

Law would require device on handguns sold in state by 2002

Md. safety chief in support

Suggestion is made after task force sees weapon demonstration

November 10, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A panel led by Maryland's top public safety official is recommending that handguns sold in the state in 2002 be equipped with a built-in mechanical trigger lock to prevent unauthorized use.

Stuart O. Simms, secretary of public safety and corrections, said the state should pass such legislation as a first step toward Gov. Parris N. Glendening's goal of using technology to make guns safer.

The recommendation was made by a subcommittee, chaired by Simms, of the Governor's Task Force on Childproof Guns, after a demonstration of the built-in locks -- including one that requires entering a personal identification number to activate the gun.

Mike Morrill, Glendening's chief press spokesman, said no other states or local governments in Maryland require built-in trigger locks. Some states require that external locks be sold with handguns, but they are easily detachable.

Simms' subcommittee also urged the full task force to recommend that all handguns be equipped with "smart" technology by Jan. 1, 2005. Smart guns, not yet commercially available, use such technologies as fingerprint recognition or radio waves to prevent unauthorized people from firing the weapons.

"A number of people have indicated the technology does not exist," Simms said. "The technology does exist, and there's sufficient momentum in commercial development that it will be in the marketplace."

The governor formed the task force to recommend specifics of gun safety legislation that is expected to be a centerpiece of his General Assembly agenda next year.

The basic thrust of the group's report has not been in doubt because Glendening told members to consider not whether to require safer guns, but how to go about it. The task force is expected to make recommendations to him by Dec. 1.

Even before the specifics are known, the proposed legislation has drawn opposition from gun rights advocates, who see in it a back-door approach to banning handguns. Some gun dealers and the National Rifle Association also have argued that "smart gun" technology has not been proven reliable.

Despite the task force name emphasizing child safety, the panel has also outlined broader goals of protecting police officers from being shot with their own weapons and reducing gun deaths generally.

The deadlines are the key proposals in the group's effort to turn Glendening's ambitious rhetoric into legislative language. The governor has said he hopes his legislation will prod other states to adopt similar bans and gun manufacturers to make safer firearms.

Simms' subcommittee had originally focused on high-tech solutions for personalizing guns, most of which are several years from commercial availability. But Morrill said the panel learned that the built-in locks are sold now.

Frank Brooks, chairman of Saf T Lok Inc., told the group yesterday that such locks are easier to use than conventional trigger locks.

"This gun loads easy, it unloads easy and it doesn't modify the firearm," Brooks said, displaying a handgun equipped with one of his company's locks. He said gun owners would embrace such technology because it could be unlocked in three to five seconds "even in the dark."

The internal locks, which currently must be installed in guns after purchase, cost $80 to $95 depending on whether they are mounted on the grip or inserted into the magazine. Brooks said the cost could be reduced to $30 if gun manufacturers put them in at the factory.

Patrick Loughlin, manager of the Valley Gun Shop in Parkville, dismissed the internal lock as "another ridiculous invention that nobody wants."

He said the Saf T Lok device requires users to hit three tiny buttons in a certain sequence -- presumably under stress.

"The very first thing you lose under stress is motor coordination," Loughlin said. "Most people would probably not be able to get the lock off the gun to function."

Simms urged the task force to keep its focus on the commercial sale of handguns, recommending that it not try to address private sales between individuals, guns already in distribution or safety equipment for rifles.

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