- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2000

The Maryland legislature will consider funding research for "smart gun" technology today. It should not bother.

"Smart gun" technology is the new, sophisticated-electronic lock that promises to distinguish between authorized and unauthorized gun users. It is also the newest form of gun control. Gov. Parris Glendening is asking the legislature for $3 million over three years to pay for its development.

Under his proposed legislation, the research money would be paired with a mandate that all new handguns be sold with smart locks after May 2003. Before the mandate kicks in, an 11-member commission would report to the governor on the availability of the technology. Following that, Mr. Glendening would likely implement the mandate as one of his last acts in office.

Mr. Glendening thinks "smart gun" technology would save children. Certainly, saving innocent children is an admirable goal, and it is doubtful that any lawmaker would want to stop children from being saved.

Consider how many children accidentally shoot themselves or other children in a given year. According to statistics provided by Yale Law Professor John Lott Jr., who will be testifying before the Maryland legislature today, 42 children under the age of 10 died nationwide as a result of an accidental shooting in 1996. For children under the age of 15 the nationwide number grows to 136, in 1996.

In a nation of 270 million people, the number of accidental shootings seems a relatively minor risk given, say, automobile accidents. But each child's death is a tragedy. What can be done? Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as paying for new technology and then mandating it. When the nation faced a similar safety question with children and medicine, child safety caps were mandated. It turned out that many parents were lulled into a false sense of security and depended on those caps to keep the medicine from their children. They relaxed their vigilance, and, as a result, more children were poisoned than before the mandate.

Similarly, some states mandated trigger locks on firearms. The General Accounting Office discovered that children older than 7 were smart enough to defeat that safety precaution and again parents were wrong to count on on those locks for security.

The lesson clearly is that adults have to be mindful of children. They must design a set of safety procedures that fit that family and that child. Those safety precautions can include gun safes, locks and "smart gun" technology, but the key ingredient remains personal responsibility. If parents do not instruct their children in the proper respect for a firearm impressing upon children that like a car, if wielded irresponsibly, a gun can be dangerous then more children are going to be hurt. No technology and no government check will change that.

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