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Mandatory Storage/Trigger Lock Legislation

Thursday, July 29, 1999

President Clinton in 1997 demonstrated his support for "trigger lock" legislation by issuing an executive order mandating trigger locks on the firearms of all federal law enforcement officers. In general, mandatory storage legislation seeks to require that firearms kept in the home be stored with a trigger or gun-locking device, under lock and key, or in another approved way.

Everyone knows that firearms must be stored safely, but most Americans feel that it is not the government`s business to dictate how people store things in their homes. There is no compelling need for such invasions of privacy for the following reasons:

Today, fatal firearm accidents are at an all-time low.

While the number of privately owned firearms has quadrupled since 1930, the annual number of fatal firearm accidents has declined by 62%. Firearms are involved in 1.5% of accidental fatalities nationwide, far behind the deaths due to motor vehicle accident (47%), falling (15%), poisoning (10%), drowning (4%), fire (3%), suffocation on an ingested object (3%) and other causes. (National Safety Council, National Center for Health Statistics)

Mandatory storage laws that exact penalties are unnecessary.

Most states already provide penalties for reckless endangerment, under which an adult found grossly negligent in the storage of a firearm under certain circumstances can be prosecuted for a felony offense.

Universal mandatory storage requirements are counterproductive.

No "one size fits all" requirement can possibly meet the needs of all American gun owners, whose circumstances vary greatly. For example, gun owners without children in their homes may have different storage needs than those with children present. Gun owners who live in high-rise apartments may have different needs than those who live on isolated farms or ranches. NRA`s firearm safety manuals recommend that firearms kept at home be stored inaccessible to unauthorized persons, including children. NRA believes that it is and should remain the responsibility of the individual firearm owner, not the government, to determine how to ensure that guns are safely stored.

In an emergency, a trigger lock can handicap a person who needs a gun for protection.

While firearms kept only for hunting, target shooting or as collector`s items should be stored unloaded, firearms kept for personal protection may be better stored ready for use. Some trigger lock manufacturers recommend that their products not be used on loaded firearms.

Trigger locks and other such devices can fail.

Trigger locks do not make firearms foolproof and are not substitutes for safe firearms handling practices, dictated by long standing safety rules. Reliance on devices, rather than safety rules, can instill a false sense of security that can lead to problems when a device-less firearm is encountered.

Compliance with storage laws is not likely.

Irresponsible people are not likely to obey a law that merely restates their inherent responsibilities.

Enforcement of a storage law could lead to abuses of civil liberties.

Enforcement of a storage law could lead to searches of homes in violation of Fourth Amendment protections. Additionally, arbitrary storage requirements might be imposed. Many American gun owners and civil libertarians are familiar with the British experience with mandatory storage laws and don`t want to see that history repeat itself here. Dating back to the 17th Century, the right to keep and bear arms had a proud tradition in Britain, but passage of the Firearms Act of 1920 shattered that heritage. Suddenly, citizens could possess rifles and pistols only if they could prove they had "good reason" for receiving a police permit--a "firearms certificate." Self-defense, at that time, was considered a "good reason."

In 1936, British police began adding the following requirement for firearms certificates: "The firearms and ammunition to which this certificate relates must at all times when not in actual use be kept in a secure place with a view to preventing access to them by unauthorized persons." Today, in Britain, self-defense is no longer an accepted "good reason" for owning a gun (a dangerously absurd notion that the organization formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc. pushes in this country). In some areas, police will neither issue or renew a firearms or shotgun (added in 1989) certificate without first conducting an in-home visit to ensure that their standards for safe storage are being met. There is no legal authority for these inspections, but if a gun owner refuses to open his door to the police, his certificate is not approved. In many jurisdictions police not only require gun safes, but arbitrarily change the standards for those safes. In many districts, an acceptable safe is one that can withstand a half-hour attack by a burglar possessing a full set of safe-cracking tools. Finally, enforcement of a storage law would divert police from crime-fighting duties.

"Feel-good" legislation is not the same thing as good legislation.

Rather than imposing ineffective laws, NRA believes education is the way to further reduce firearm-related accidents. Nationwide, NRA`s 46,000 Certified Instructors and Coaches train three-quarters of a million trainees each year. Separately, NRA`s award-winning "Eddie Eagle GunSafe®" education program for children in grades pre-K through 6th grade has reached nearly 17 million students nationwide.

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