THOSE WHO profit most from America's murderous stockpile of firearms have never had much love for Maryland. Over the years, voters in Maryland have supported efforts to ban cheap, shoddy and dangerous handguns and to stop bulk buys of handguns by traffickers who supply criminals and other dangerous people up and down the East Coast. Now most of the big handgun pushers are aroused by Gov. Glendening's latest legislative effort. He is calling for a requirement that all handguns sold in the state be fully childproof. Can't do, say the manufacturers, claiming that the technology doesn't exist. Can so, say some firearms experts as well as two industry firms -- Colt Manufacturing Co. and Fulton Arms Inc. -- that have been looking into control systems.
The governor and others pressing for gun safety are not talking about trigger locks. Nor are they buying the naysaying of technologically challenged firearms manufacturers. Officials at Colt -- while opposing any state requirement -- do support developing the technology and estimate that a "personalized gun" could be ready for limited marketing within three years.
Gov. Glendening has a task force studying work being done on this and other fronts. Fulton officials say they have prototypes of pistols, rifles and shotguns that can be fired only by radio signals sent from a ring worn by the authorized user. Another protection under study would use fingerprint readings that would enable only the authorized user to discharge the weapon.
It may take time to get such systems up and running for general sales. But Gov. Glendening notes that government pressures for new technologies have served to speed development of safety protections for all sorts of products, especially those that may fall into the hands of children. That is why the many Americans terrorized by gunfire believe that firearms ought to be subject to federal safety requirements as well. As it stands, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission can order a toy off the market for having sharp plastic edges -- but can't pull a handgun that goes off at the flick of a child's finger.
Surely ingenious engineers who have designed ever more efficient weapons could produce firearms that won't fire for anyone who comes across one. If they can't, that's all the more reason for stronger action in the name of public safety: a ban on concealable weapons altogether.