- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

Montgomery County, Maryland's health department began its second annual gun-lock giveaway yesterday with a whimper more than a bang, handing out a couple dozen of the 600 locks at the county's agricultural fair. The free locks, which cost county taxpayers about $6 each, drew mostly women and parents who had to claim county residency gun ownership, complete a questionnaire and promise to use them.
"You look like a gun owner to me, " proclaimed Linda Warren, sounding and looking chipper in a canary-yellow vest as she greeted a visitor to the health department's booth at the fair in Gaithersburg.
"Oh yeah, I'm a trained killer, " replied the middle-aged man in olive drab shorts, sport shirt and Nike athletic shoes.
"You're undercover now, right? " Miss Warren joked.
He nodded, sort of, before handing back a questionnaire to obtain one of the free locks.
Officials estimate the county has given away about 1,700 of the devices since the program began shortly after the county enacted a law requiring guns to be sold with trigger locks.
Along with thousands of bicycle helmets, smoke detectors and batteries and hundreds of car seats the county has given away, mostly to low-income families, the locks are just one of the county's safety initiatives — albeit the most controversial.
"It seems like a good idea, " said the man in olive shorts, still declining to give his name as he sat two booths away with his locks, chatting with fellow Izaak Walton League members at that hunting, fishing and conservation group's exhibit.
"But all new [guns] are shipped with locks, " added Charles Roman, firing range coordinator for the group.
And they aren't foolproof, other members added, voicing widespread reservations among seasoned gun owners that folks will see the devices as a panacea or substitute for responsible gun ownership.
About a dozen of the devices — designed to prevent a gun from firing by running a 15-inch cable through its action and back into a padlock — had been distributed within the giveaway's first hour.
Only another 12 or so went between noon and 4:30 p.m.
But, noting that women and children accounted for most of the afternoon traffic at the fair, "Safe Kids" coordinator Kathy Wood said she believed many locks would go before the booth — which is open through the fair's end Saturday — closed at 9:30 p.m.
Made by Master Lock, the cable devices the county is offering are superior to trigger locks the same manufacturer recalled last year because they were too easy to pry open.
Despite the light mood in the health department booth — where brochures were also offered in English and Spanish on issues from venereal disease to how to react when parents mistreat children in public — gun control is a loaded issue in the county.
And the fairgrounds has become the latest focus of the battle.
County officials are threatening to withdraw financial support from the private nonprofit agricultural center if its board continues to allow gun shows there.
Gun show promoter Frank Krasner is fighting the county officials in court.

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