Maryland takes a step toward safer gun use

Trigger locks: Maryland and Massachusetts move to keep weapons away from children.

April 06, 2000

HANDGUNS can kill. So can cars. Yet one is subjected to rigorous safety standards; the other isn't.

That is starting to change in Maryland and Massachusetts. In Annapolis, the General Assembly this week passed a Glendening administration bill requiring external trigger locks on handguns sold after Oct. 1; after Jan. 1, 2003, internal locks are required.

In Boston, the Massachusetts attorney general imposed tough handgun safety regulations, including requiring the sale of trigger locks with every handgun.

The goal is to protect children from gaining easy access to loaded weapons and then using them. It happened at Columbine High School in Colorado (12 students and one teacher dead), and it happened Michigan (six-year-old Kayla Rolland dead).

Trigger locks -- especially internal locks -- would effectively put newly purchased handguns off-limits to children. It's a matter of safety and consumer protection.

So is Maryland's new mandate that starting in 2002, all handgun purchasers must take a two-hour gun-safety course.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening deserves credit for championing these safety measures. House and Senate leaders -- with strong public support -- also surmounted opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association.

But this isn't a panacea. Irresponsible gun owners may be forced to buy safety locks, but they don't have to use them. And the Maryland law doesn't apply to the estimated 1.2 million handguns already in private hands.

It could be years before Maryland's law and the Massachusetts regulation make a visible difference. But these actions could prompt other states to view handguns as dangerous, deadly products that require consumer-protection measures.

The bill's importance was highlighted by President Clinton's congratulatory telephone call to the governor and the announcement that the president would attend next week's bill-signing ceremony in the State House.

Passage of the bill also underlines the importance of a recent decision by Smith & Wesson Corp., the nation's largest handgun manufacturer, to add internal safety locks to its guns in 2002. Making guns safer around the home -- and rendering these weapons useless if they are stolen -- is the goal. It could save thousands of lives each year.

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