Danger evident in imposing mandatory gun storage laws

by Dave Kopel

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 08, 2006

Many gun owners store their gun with a "trigger lock," a device that prevents the trigger from being pressed until the lock is removed with a key. Other gun owners store their guns in safes or in "quick-lock" safety boxes, which pop open when a combination of buttons is pressed.

Some gun owners store their gun separate from their ammunition, or with a critical component (such as the bolt) removed. Any of these steps may be a sensible way to deal with the presence of guns and children in the same house.

National Rifle Association safety training strongly urges that any gun that is kept only for sporting purposes be stored in a condition so that it cannot be readily fired.

It does not make sense to mandate such storage conditions. The U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution both guarantee the right to own a gun for defense, and mandatory locks nullify that right. A locked gun might not be readily available in an emergency; even a simple lock may be difficult to open at night when an attacker is just a few seconds away.

Moreover, the circumstances of protection in each individual home are too variable to mandate any one policy. A mother of a three-month-old baby, who lives in a dangerous neighborhood could safely keep a loaded gun in a bedside drawer. When the child grew older, the mother might store the gun's magazine (the device containing the ammunition) on a high closet shelf, with the hope that she could retrieve and insert the magazine if she heard someone breaking into her home.

If an ex-boyfriend started harassing her by phone, and threatened to come over that night and kill her, it would be sensible for her to keep the loaded gun on top of her bedside table as she slept, and even to carry the gun in a holster when she was awake. No single safety rule, written in the crime-free confines of a legislative chamber, can determine the best practices for gun storage in all situations.

The deadly danger of mandatory gun lock laws is illustrated by an incident in Merced, Calif., in August 2000. There, a pitchfork- wielding man cut the phone lines to a home, then broke in and began attacking four children while their parents were not home.

The oldest child, 14-year-old Jessica Carpenter, was unable to retrieve her father's guns from a locked cabinet. She ran to a neighbor's home, and the neighbor called 911. By the time the police arrived, Jessica's 7-year-old brother and 9-year-old sister had been murdered. Jessica's father's guns were locked up in accordance with the California gun storage law.

In countries such as Canada and England —which are cited as models by the American gun control movement—the need to ensure compliance with gun storage laws has been used to justify frequent warrantless inspections of the homes of gun owners.

In the last 35 years, the number of firearms in America has more than doubled, while the number of fatal gun accidents involving children has plunged. One reason is the NRA's Eddie Eagle program, which teaches children to stay away from guns, except under adult supervision.

• David B. Kopel is director of the Second Amendment Project at the Independence Institute, a think tank in Colorado.

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