THE TASK force appointed by Maryland's Gov. Parris Glendening on gun violence has come out with recommendations that go beyond other states' efforts to control handguns. It proposes that, starting in 2002, all handguns sold in Maryland should be equipped with built-in trigger locks, and that at some later point they should incorporate technology that restricts a gun's use to its owner. Four other states require that handguns be sold with detatchable trigger locks. None requires that these be built-in, and none has ever passed a so-called "smart-gun" mandate.
Trigger locks are a good way to reduce three categories of gun violence. The first involves shootings by children who come upon their parents' weapons at home: These tragedies account for 200 or so deaths a year in the United States. The second involves teenage suicides. In 1996 there were 1,308 gun suicides by children aged 10 to 19, and many of these deaths might have been avoided if unlocked guns in the home had not provided a way to act on impulse. Finally, locks may reduce crimes committed with the half-million weapons that are stolen from homes each year.
Smart-gun technology represents an advance on mechanical locks. It would probably involve sensors that recognize the gun owner's finger prints and prevent others from firing it. This holds the advantage that the sensors could always be on, whereas mechanical locks are worthless unless owners are diligent about using them. For the moment, smart-gun technology is not available; but passing a law requiring guns to incorporate it some years hence is a good way to hasten its arrival. Colt's Manufacturing Co. hopes to have a smart gun ready for sale in four years, suggesting that others could meet a deadline of 2005 if they were serious about doing so.
Mr. Glendening will have to hold the existing coalition of moderate gun controllers together if he is to shepherd the task force's proposal into law; he should be commended for taking on this issue. Trigger locks are not a cure to the nation's epidemic of gun violence. But they move in the right direction.