Safer handguns could be a reality

Smart guns: Technology, law needed to prevent accidental shooting tragedies.

February 18, 2000

PREVENTING firearms accidents is not equivalent to a ban on handguns. Developing the technology to make guns safer is not science fiction.

Requiring that handguns be sold with built-in locks and, eventually, with a user-ID system to activate their use is a goal that responsible citizens should endorse. Maybe not the details or the ambitious deadlines advanced by Gov. Parris Glendening in his campaign to require "smart guns" that can only be fired by a single owner. But certainly the objectives.

The impetus for such safety devices is mounting: President Clinton has earmarked $10 million for that research and Colt's Manufacturing Co. in Connecticut is developing a better gun lock.

Here in Maryland, Mr. Glendening has committed $3 million for smart-gun research by handgun maker Beretta USA, located in Prince George's County.

While opponents insist that the microchip ID technology is far from reality, major gun manufacturers are seriously taking up the challenge.

Guns with built-in code-dial locks are already available. Microchip ID of retina prints and hand prints is an accepted security technology; there's ample motivation and experience to advance this research for handguns.

A troubling argument is that such individualized locks could prevent the use of a weapon in a self-defense emergency: A spouse could not use the firearm because it was only authorized for his wife, a registered gun-owner would not be able to react in time because of the lock.

These are legitimate questions to be addressed by policy and technology. But they don't blunt the need for safer weapons that can protect human lives, especially those of children.

Lawmakers will be challenged to come up with specific, understandable legal language that can be enforced. Exemption for police officers is a sticky point. So is the added cost of a handgun. And hundreds of thousands of guns without any locks will remain in circulation.

Given the lapses in the gun-purchase background check system, it's clear that legislation alone does not guarantee compliance. Nor can technology completely substitute for cautious, safe, responsible use (and storage) of these deadly weapons.

Pub Date: 2/18/00

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