Another child shot; Gun safety: Havre de Grace teen-ager's death should renew calls for stronger laws.

THE STORY IS repeated too often: Two or more kids get to fooling around with a gun that's in the house. Someone is shot. Sometimes, someone dies.

It happened one week ago in Havre de Grace. James Irwin Ashby, 13, was fatally shot by his 14-year-old brother as they apparently toyed with one of their father's guns when their parents were out. How many more tragedies must occur before stronger gun safety measures are taken?

Gov. Parris N. Glendening should follow through on a campaign promise to make Maryland the first state to ban the sale of any handgun that isn't child proof. Prince George's and Montgomery counties have enacted local legislation requiring locks on all handguns sold. Those jurisdictions and others in Maryland should follow Baltimore City's lead by extending such a law to rifles.

James Ashby was killed by a rifle shot from one of the guns his father kept unloaded in a locked cabinet. The police investigation is continuing. Children, unfortunately, have a way of finding what they are not supposed to find, of unlocking doors that are supposed to be kept locked. A gun lock won't prevent every tragedy, but could reduce their frequency.

More than 90 percent of accidental shootings of children can be linked to an unlocked, loaded gun in the house. National Safe Kids, a nonprofit child safety organization, says 1,500 children under age 15 are taken to emergency rooms with gunshot wounds each year. About 200 die.

The governor advocates "smart weapons," guns that cannot be fired by anyone other than authorized users. Combination locks on triggers make it harder for children to fire a gun. Microchips can read the fingerprints of whoever is holding a weapon so that the wrong person cannot fire it.

Responsible gun ownership requires parents to to be very clear with their children about the consequences if they handle the weapons in their home. Too many children have died already.

Pub Date: 1/18/99

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