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Boston to require child-proof locks on its police department handguns Move is likely to be used as precedent in effort to make guns safer


The mayor of Boston said yesterday that the city's police department will attach child-proof combination locks to the service weapons of all 2,247 police officers, making Boston the first big city in the nation to require locks and training in their use.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and his police commissioner, Paul Evans, said in a morning news conference that by mandating locks on police guns they hope to protect the officers and their families from being shot -- either accidentally at home or deliberately by criminals who steal or grab their guns.

Successfully tested

The dark-colored locks have been successfully tested by the federal government, Colt Manufacturing Co. and 100 Boston officers. They attach to the bases of semi-automatic pistols and revolvers and can be unlocked in seconds by pushing buttons with the firing hand.

"These safety devices are simple to use and, best of all, will provide the officer with peace of mind during this holiday season," said Menino. In matters of gun safety, Evans added, police departments have a duty "to lead by example."

Boston's announcement seems likely to be used as ammunition in the legal assault against gun manufacturers, who are expected to face lawsuits from dozens of cities, including Boston, in the next few months.

This fall, the city of New Orleans became the first city to file suit against gun makers, arguing that firearms are unsafe because they fail to include safety features, from low-technology locks to high-technology "smart gun" technologies, that would prevent children from using them. In Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has pledged to introduce legislation next year mandating such technologies in all handguns sold.

In response, manufacturers have argued that such safety features are both unproved in practice and unpopular among police departments. Lawyers and gun control advocates claim that Boston's decision is a direct rebuttal to the gun makers' argument.

'Unregulated, unchallenged'

"Boston proves that the industry has the ability to make guns safer, but they choose not to," said Wendell Gauthier, a Louisiana anti-tobacco lawyer who has guaranteed victory in New Orleans' lawsuit against gun makers. "This industry has gone unregulated and unchallenged for so long that they are completely irresponsible."

Jack Adkins, vice president of the American Shooting Sports Council, the gun trade association, said the gun makers have offered locks that can be used on guns and have actively promoted safe storage of firearms. But he warned that by mandating safety devices, gun makers might create a false sense of security for gun owners, who in turn "might be more likely to leave a loaded gun around."

Adkins added that locks that become part of a gun, as in Boston, could be risky. "Anything that is added onto the firearm could create problems for the operation of the gun," he said. "It'll be interesting to see what the response will be if a police officer in Boston needs to use his gun, and can't get it unlocked."

But Frank Brooks, president of the lock's manufacturer, SafTLok of Tequesta, Fla., said that testing of the locks had proved safe.

About 150 police departments around the country are studying the lock and at least three -- in Florida, Indiana and Illinois -- use it. His company has an appointment after the holidays with the Maryland State Police to discuss the lock, Brooks said.

"We're making a concerted effort to stay abreast of this technology," said Maryland State Police First Sgt. Laura Lu Herman. Maryland State Police have required the use of trigger locks for issued weapons since February 1996 and train both recruits and their families in gun safety, she said.

Baltimore to study Boston

Baltimore police, while unaware of the Boston announcement, said they have been studying various safety features for guns.

"It's an officer safety issue," said Lt. Edward Frost. "We've not found a reliable, fail-safe gun lock. But Boston's sounds like an excellent idea. I'm sure we'll look into it."

Brooks, a 64-year-old former Marine weapons instructor, said the idea for such a lock came to him in 1989. A gun owner himself, Brooks wanted to design a lock that would keep his grandchildren safe around guns.

The owner of a successful telephone and pager company, Brooks spent seven years -- and $3 million -- developing a lock. Over the last two years, he developed a second lock model, which is being used in Boston.

The locks cost $80 apiece; the department's own foundation and Stop Handgun Violence Inc., a Massachusetts gun control group, helped pay for them. Boston police say that officers will use the locks outside of work but will probably keep their guns RTC unlocked while on patrol.

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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