SEATTLE – Trigger locks and gun safes don't reduce the number of gun accidents, and they actually put gun owners and their families in greater danger, a new report says.
"What happens is it makes them more vulnerable to crime," said John R. Lott, Jr., a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has published the study Safe-Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicide and Crime. "Criminals become more emboldened to attack people in their home."
Lott cited a Merced, Calif. family whose guns were put away because of the state's safe storage law. John Carpenter, who lost two children in an attack in 2000, said a gun would have stopped the man who broke into his home with a pitchfork.
"If a gun had been here, today I'd have at least a daughter alive," Carpenter said.
For several years, gun control advocates have been quoting a study that reached a very different conclusion. University of Washington doctors claimed that in a dozen states which had safe storage laws, 39 children's lives were saved.
But the study has been widely discredited because the researchers never factored in that accidental gun deaths have been falling everywhere for decades.
Nevertheless, 18 states have passed safe storage laws. Lobbyists who fight for the legislation call Lott's research nonsense.
"He's argued after the tragedy at Jonesboro, Ark., the school shooting, that if the teachers had been armed, they could have prevented the shooting. This is an extremist, someone who believes that everyone in society should be armed at all times," said Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Americans for Gun Safety Foundation.
But Lott counters that the number of gun accidents among law-abiding citizens is remarkably low given that about 90 million Americans own firearms. Far more children die each year from drowning and poisons.
And when tragedy does strike, Lott said, it usually happens in a home where there is a criminal history.
"You're having these law abiding households lock up these guns where the risks of accidental gun deaths is essentially zero," he said.
Still, gun locks enjoy wide support. President Bush has said that if Congress passed a bill requiring them, he would sign it. But this latest study provides opponents with a new weapon in their arsenal.