Gun owners have embraced Maine trigger-lock giveaway

Safety programs become trend across the country

January 14, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KENNEBUNK, Maine - In remote Aroostook County, demand was so hot the supply ran out in a few hours. The same happened in Bangor. Here in Kennebunk, word had barely gotten out, but already Michael Pardue had come into the local police station and left a happy customer, one more beneficiary of the great Maine trigger-lock giveaway now under way.

Matthew B. Baker, the town's police chief, sounded happy, too. "It's a no-brainer," he said of the program, begun this month to give a gun lock free to any Maine resident who wants one.

Others around the country have concluded the same thing. In May, George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, announced that he would devote $5 million over five years to a gun-lock giveaway and seek a $65 million-a-year nationwide program if elected president.

Scattered police departments and hospitals operate similar programs on their own, from Palm Beach County, Fla., to Somerset County, N.J.

And the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, plans to give away 1 million locks this year in a program called Project HomeSafe. Begun in 2000, the program has distributed 400,000 locks. It was suspended in the fall because of design flaws found in the cable locks it distributed, said Bob Delfay, the foundation's president, and started up again last week after the manufacturer fixed the trouble.

Gun-lock giveaways have appeared to be a growing trend in the past two years, said Delfay, even though "firearms accidents in the home are at historically low levels." It could be, he said, that as gun accidents become fewer, each one gets more publicity, fueling the push for further safety measures.

It could also be, he and others said, that gun locks - and safety measures in general - are one of the few issues on which gun proponents and gun opponents can heartily agree.

In Maine the group sponsoring the giveaway, the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence Foundation, says it has had not a glimmer of disapproval about it, despite the powerful pro-gun sentiments of many Mainers whose parents and grandparents took them hunting and target shooting.

Those include people like Theodore St. Pierre, the sheriff of Aroostook County: "I'm not a believer in gun control, because I believe the crook is going to be able to get a gun every time and you're restricting the law-abiding citizens from getting guns."

But, he added, "What we need to do is say, `If you're going to be a gun owner, you must be a responsible gun owner.'"

At about $10 each, the gun locks are cheap enough for many people to afford, he said, but a giveaway adds incentive: "Anything for free, they'll line up for."

The 60 gun locks St. Pierre received were gone in a couple of hours, he said. In Bangor, 75 locks were given away last weekend, said Don Winslow, the police chief there. In all, more than 2,500 locks have been given out in Maine.

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