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Atty. Ralph D. Sherman

130 West Main Street • New Britain, Connecticut 06052

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Trigger locks are dangerous

"Op-ed" article

published in The Hartford Courant

September 12, 1998

by Ralph D. Sherman

Spending half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money on “free” trigger locks might be a good idea - if the result would be a net decrease in gun accidents. Trouble is, a net increase is more likely, because trigger locks are dangerous.

I make that assertion as a firearms safety instructor, an attorney, and the father of two small children. Here’s why:

The use of trigger locks requires the violation of a fundamental rule of gun safety. The rule: Keep your finger off the trigger unless you intend to shoot (in case you’re mistaken about whether the gun is loaded). A trigger lock must be attached to a gun at the trigger, exactly where a finger would go to fire the gun. The lock is supposed to go on an unloaded gun, but if the user has erred and the gun is loaded when the lock is attached, then the gun may be accidentally discharged during the attachment process. The risk is multiplied because a trigger lock is not permanently attached; it must be removed every time the gun is used (for target practice, hunting, etc.), and the user must later attach the lock again.

It’s easy to attach a trigger lock loosely so that it still allows the trigger to be pulled. Thus the gun may appear “safe” when it isn’t.

Trigger locks are easy to defeat if you have a little time. They don’t stop children who are determined enough to break into a home or car.

Bottom line: I don’t use trigger locks. I wouldn’t leave a trigger-locked gun where a child could get it. If someone pointed a trigger-locked gun at me, I would duck for cover. And while I know many responsible gun owners and safety instructors, I don’t know any who use trigger locks.

The proper way to store guns in a home that has small children is to lock the guns in a box or gun safe. Any parent must recognize, however, that locks can fail. A much more important component of gun safety is educating the children about the potential danger.

Recently a Harvard economist showed that use of child-resistant medicine-bottle caps has caused 3,500 additional poisonings of children under age 5 from aspirin-related drugs every year. The reason: Many parents rely on the “safety” bottles and neglect to educate children about the danger in the medicine cabinet.

Still don’t believe that trigger locks are dangerous? Then let’s assume that trigger locks really make guns safer. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe that adults who are too irresponsible to store their guns in locked boxes will suddenly request tax-funded trigger locks and use them. The proposition is especially dubious because trigger locks are already widely available for about $10. Anyone who really believes that a trigger lock is crucial has already spent the $10.

While gun accidents may once have constituted a crisis, they’re quite rare today, given our current population of 270 million Americans. Since 1930 the number of accidental firearms deaths has dropped steadily to the present all-time low of 1,400 annually, even though our population has doubled and the number of privately owned guns has quadrupled. (For perspective: Motor-vehicle accidents cause about 44,000 deaths annually; about 13,000 Americans die each year from accidental falls.)

Still, any time a child finds a gun and injures someone, it’s a tragedy. Like most accidents, it’s preventable. Since 1988, the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program ( has provided a simple, low-cost way to teach children what to do if they come across a loose gun. The program has been maligned by well-meaning people who haven’t seen it for themselves, but it’s quite effective; my 4-year-old understands it. If any legislators were to propose it for our public-school curriculum, they’d have my support.


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