Trying to make handguns safer

Trigger locks: State panel on right path in effort to reduce accidental firing of guns by children.

November 27, 1999

EACH YEAR, more than 5,000 children die from handgun wounds. If current trends continue, handguns soon will be the No. 1 cause of childhood death in the United States.

The statistics are stunning. More than 800 people die annually from guns fired by children; 1,300 children, ages 10 to 19, commit suicide with firearms each year.

And yet there is no requirement that owners lock up guns or disable firearms when not in use. Efforts just to mandate the sale of safety locks with each gun purchase prompt angry outbursts.

So it's not surprising a gubernatorial task force has encountered resistance to calls for government-imposed firearms safety. But the panel seems ready to recommend next week built-in trigger locks for all handguns sold in Maryland and eventually "smart" handgun technology that would allow only the owner to operate a firearm.

Given the violence among youngsters who get their hands on guns, preventing child access is vital. Most handguns require so little trigger resistance they can be fired by young children or go off if dropped on the floor.

Built-in trigger locks, now on the market, can prevent kids from accidentally discharging weapons. The minor inconvenience for adult owners is far outweighed by the peace of mind these mechanical locks would give to parents.

Futuristic "smart" guns are in the testing stage. Some won't work unless a personal ID number is activated. Another promising technology is fingerprint-recognition that prevents unauthorized use of a weapon.

This high-tech wizardry is at least four years off. A state law mandating inclusion of such mechanisms in five years would give companies a huge incentive to bring this product to market.

It's no panacea. So far this year, 25,600 guns have been approved for sale by the state. That's a fraction of the total number of firearms in our communities.

Over time, though, mandating built-in gun locks should make a difference.

Lawmakers may even want to explore other proposals that drive home the point to gun owners that safety must come first.

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