October 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Gun Makers Surrender On Safety Locks Manufacturers Cut Deal With Clinton To Fit New Handguns With Childproof Devices

Angie Cannon Knight-Ridder
 

About 80 percent of all new handguns sold in the United States will be equipped with child safety locks, thanks to a voluntary policy announced Thursday by eight of the largest gun manufacturers.

Executives from gun companies stepped into the pro-gun-control Clinton White House and said they will install the locks to reduce injuries and accidental deaths of children.

About 1,500 children are wounded every year by guns, and nearly 200 children died in 1994 from accidental gunshot wounds, according to federal statistics.

“Communities all across our nation have suffered devastating losses when a child playing with a parent’s gun accidentally takes the life of a brother, a sister or a playmate,” President Clinton said during a Rose Garden ceremony honoring the nation’s outstanding law enforcement officers.

The deal avoids a fight in Congress over legislation requiring the locks. The gun representatives said they had been talking with Republican Senate leaders and White House aides about their move.

The locks, which will be phased in over the next year, will vary widely from locking boxes to smaller devices that block the chamber or trigger. Gun manufacturers estimate they will add $5 to $10 to the cost of a gun.

Some of the devices can be used only on unloaded guns, the manufacturers said.

That the gun representatives and Clinton were united on an issue is unusual in view of Clinton’s strong support for the assault-weapons ban and the Brady law, which requires a five-day waiting period to buy a handgun.

“There may be other disagreements in the future,” Clinton said. “But today, we stand together, with the law enforcement community, to do what we all know is right for our children.”

The eight major manufacturers are Glock, Beretta, Taurus, H&R;, Heckler & Koch, Smith & Wesson, O.F. Mossberg & Sons and SigArms. Seven other companies that didn’t attend the White House ceremony also will include locks on their guns. These 15 companies produce about 80 percent of the 2 million guns sold annually in the United States.

Ed Shultz, president of Smith & Wesson, said his company would offer trigger locks with keys on its guns. He also said it was awkward to be a guest at the Clinton White House.

“This administration has not been friendly to the firearms industry in general,” he said. “There has been an animosity, but if we are going to move forward, we have to seize an issue everyone agrees is something we are all concerned about.”

Jonathan E. Mossberg, vice president of O.F. Mossberg & Sons, said his family’s North Haven, Conn., company was one of the first to equip guns with safety devices. They have put locks on guns shipped since 1989.

“I took a lot of heat for that,” Mossberg said, adding that other gun manufacturers took shots at the company through protests and newsletter cartoons.

Mossberg said Thursday’s action puts pressure on several smaller manufacturers and importers that haven’t agreed to join the program.

This new plan builds on a proposal Clinton made in March, in which guns issued to all law enforcement officials, including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Customs agents, would be equipped with safety locks. By Oct. 15, all federal law enforcement officials will be issued those safety devices.

A recent study by the Justice Department estimates that more than one-third of all privately owned handguns - 22 million - are kept loaded and unlocked in the United States.

The Violence Policy Center, a gun-control organization, says the voluntary policy to supply trigger locks benefits the gun industry more than the nation’s children because there won’t be federal legislation.

“President Clinton has guaranteed that no mandatory federal standards will be developed to ensure that devices labeled ‘trigger locks’ will in fact help protect children from unintentional gunshot injuries,” said Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center. She said that her group had found that different kinds of trigger locks could be easily broken, twisted or cut off.

Richard Feldman, executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council Inc., said the gun manufacturers would provide the safety devices within the coming year.

“Please do not be fooled into believing that any single safety device by itself is the answer,” Feldman said. “They are only a part of a comprehensive firearm safety program which must address safe use, safe storage and basic firearms safety awareness.”

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