By Dave Kopel. Mr. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute.
3/27/00 7:45 p.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel on gun safety.
Mandatory gun locks are near the top of the gun control agenda these days. Although all handgun companies now give away locks with their guns, pressure is on to make this program mandatory. The next step is to require all guns to be locked up all the time, except when actually in use, as is currently the law in Washington, D.C, and Canada.
In Maryland, Governor Parris Glendenning is pushing for legislation to require that all new handguns have built-in locks. The gun company Clinton & Wesson (formerly known as Smith & Wesson) has agreed to eventually start putting built-in locks in its new models. These mandatory lock programs are dangerous, and will increase gun accidents.
First of all, all the locking programs are aimed at the rarest form of gun misuse: accidents involving small children. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1997 there were 20 fatal gun accidents involving children 0 to 4, and 122 such accidents for children aged 5 to 14. Given the ubiquity of screwdrivers, hammers, and patient teenagers who can just dial every combination on a particular three-digit lock, it is unrealistic to expect that locks will prevent gun misuse by the age groups which account for the large majority of misuse. Nor can locks keep criminals from being able to use stolen guns.
To a good extent, today's allegedly "childproof" products are still not truly childproof. A girl in Nova Scotia shot a friend while they were playing with a gun which had a trigger lock in it. ("Mounties demonstrated that with less than one pound of pressure, the trigger lock failed to prevent the gun from going off." —AP , Jan. 21 1998.)
Even worse, if a gun with a trigger lock is dropped accidentally, the gun may discharge; every gun sold in the United States today is built not to fire if dropped, but a trigger lock may defeat this important safety innovation. Trigger locks should never be put on loaded guns, but mandating trigger locks will lead to exactly such dangerous storage.