Sunday, January 24, 1999

Why should gun safety be optional?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There's a gun on my desk. It has been there for so long I've stopped noticing. I use it as a paperweight.

        At first, I played with it. Practicing. I got kind of good at it. I don't mean I learned how to shoot, but I became very good at unlocking it.

        In fact, the gun on my desk is not real. It's a dummy, equipped with a real lock. The instructions said I could arm the gun in three seconds in complete darkness.

Mechanical nitwit
        After a while, I could close my eyes and spring the lock at the top of the grip in about a second and a half.

        And I am a mechanically challenged person.

        I once managed to shear off an entire row of hollyhocks before I found the lever to disengage the blade of my dad's mower. I routinely incinerated cupcakes in my E-Z-Bake Oven. When somebody gave me a food processor called La Machine, I nearly cut off la finger.

        But this gun lock thing I could do. Surely it would be a cinch for somebody who is already a skilled gun handler. If you can strip and clean and load one, you wouldn't have a minute's trouble unlocking one. You could probably shave at least a second off my record.

        We put child-safe caps on aspirin tablets. So, why aren't locks part of every gun sold in this country? And if it's an old gun, then add one. What are we waiting for?

        Chicago and New Orleans have sued the gun manufacturers, claiming that unlocked guns are inherently unsafe. We made automakers install seat belts and air bags when there was proof that it would save lives. Of course, they passed the expense along to the people who bought the cars.

        That's the way it works. If somebody wants a gun, we have to assume they will pay the price to protect the rest of us from their lethal hobby.

        The Journal of the American Medical Association says more than 1.2 million elementary school-age children have access to guns in their homes. The National Center for Health Statistics reports 16 American children are killed with guns every day. Here in Cincinnati, guns have killed 34 teen-agers and children during the last 10 years.

        Thursday, Cincinnati's City Council voted unanimously to proceed with a proposal by Councilman Charlie Winburn to give away trigger locks. (And when was the last time you can remember this council being unanimous about anything, including the date and time of day?)

The Winburn Plan
        The plan is that Mr. Winburn will locate a corporate sponsor to donate $60,000, which will be matched by the city. The money will be used to buy devices that look like padlocks and fit over the trigger guards. These are cheap — about $12 each. They require a key.

        I'm not sure that I could find a key and fumble around unlocking one in an emergency. But that's not my problem. I don't have a gun to lock up. The lock I've been practicing on, made by a company called Saf T Lok, works with a touch-sensitive combination you can work in the dark. It costs about $90.

        The Boston Police Department ordered its officers to equip their handguns with this lock, after Massachusetts passed a law requiring all firearms at home be locked. Under the law, which took effect late last year, gun owners must use safety locks or place firearms in a secured container to avoid a fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.

        Charlie Winburn has a good idea, and I hope he can get people to start locking up their guns. Right now.

        And if they don't, then Massachusetts has a good idea.

        E-mail She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular newspaper columns and radio commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.


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