Governor Gun Lock and the Disarmament Agenda

It was March 22, 2000. Maryland Governor Paris Glendening stood in front of more than 100 uniformed police officers during a visit to the city of Silver Spring. His visit was for the purpose of demonstrating the effectiveness of new gun safety locks. Picking up a Glock 9mm pistol, Glendening inserted a Saf T Lok into the pistol’s magazine well, turned a key, and fixed the lock in place. “This is proof that it works!” he exclaimed, holding the pistol in the air in front of the crowd of officers.

The demonstration seemed to be proceeding without a hitch until Glendening attempted to remove the lock. On his first attempt, he inserted the key, turned it, and attempted to pull the lock out of the magazine well. It wouldn’t budge. He tried again and again and again. Calling Maryland National Capital Park Police Sergeant Jeff Pauley to his side for assistance, Glendening continued. After 54 attempts to remove the lock both Glendening and Pauley gave up.

(It’s too bad Glendening and Pauley didn’t have the agility of the 12-year-old Ohio boy who took his classroom hostage with a gun the following day. The boy’s parents had outfitted their gun with a trigger lock, but the boy found the key and removed it.)

One might think that such an embarrassing episode would have inspired a level of humility in the Maryland governor that would make him re-think the wisdom of a state bill requiring (in the short) term external locks to be sold with every handgun and (over the long term) built-in locking devices on every handgun to be phased in by January 1, 2003. Unfortunately, humility doesn’t come easy to creepy tin-pot authoritarians like Glendening.

(Recall that the summer prior to his gun-lock gaffe, Fuhrer Glendening had nothing better to do than create his own statewide water crisis. In Maryland, washing your car and adding water to your pool became an offense punishable by fines up to $1,000. While Maryland residents–in scorching late-summer heat–saw their lawns turn brown, their landscapes shrivel, and water disappear from restaurant tables, even meddlesome bureaucrats in D.C. and Virginia shook their heads in amazement at Glendening. “It’s very difficult to understand why anyone who is elected to serve the interests of a group of people would go out of their way to make them miserable,” Burton Rubin, a Fairfax County water commissioner, told the Washington Post (8/5/99). He added that Glendening’s restrictions were “not necessary and they don’t help anybody.” Maryland voters apparently have no problem with their property [and now public safety] threatened for the sake of their Almighty Governor’s insatiable lust for arbitrary power and self-promotion. Glendening is still as popular as ever.)

Almost three weeks after his Saf T Lok stunt, Glendening, with Saint Bill Clinton standing behind him, signed the Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000. The Act, approved by the Maryland General Assembly on April 3 requires not only locks on handguns but attendance at a 2-hour “safety course” for anyone purchasing a handgun on or after Jan. 1, 2002. The Act also requires handgun manufacturers to supply ballistics data with each type of handgun sold in Maryland.

Now, almost one year after the Glendening Gong Show, the wonderful Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has come forward to “inform” us that gun safety locks don’t work after all. The commission is now in the process of recalling 400,000 gun locks distributed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) after a study revealed that they could be opened (sometimes very easily) without a key. The CPSC’s recall comes in the wake of its broader examination of 32 gun lock models which found that all but two could be opened with “a paper clip, tweezers, a hammer or wire cutters, or by striking them against a table” according to the New York Times. However, admitting that the wonderful CPSC doesn’t have the ability to save us from all the evils of “capitalism,” only NSSF-distributed locks are being recalled. According to CPSC spokesman Russ Rader, all the other locks “don’t have brand names. That’s why we are seeking a safety standard for all gun locks.”

Hopefully the effort to codify and implement this “safety standard” will go down in flames. For decades consumers have been able to adequately secure their guns in lockable cabinets, drawers, safes, and portable cases. These readily-available containers and furnishings (the old notion of adequate gun security) are not hard to find at department, sporting goods, or gun stores. Why the fixation with a new, superfluous, and much more intrusive level of security?

For the gun grabbers it is another crucial step in de-legitimizing private firearms ownership. Convincing Americans that guns will only be secure when they are buried under layer after layer of locks effectively propagates the notion that guns are innately evil and offensively-destructive devices per se. Once this notion is widely accepted it becomes relatively easy to create support for and implement further restrictions and even wholesale bans of entire classes of handguns (“Saturday Night Specials,” semi-automatics) and rifles. After all, if these devices are so intrinsically evil, then why should anyone be allowed to own them in the first place, never mind be trusted to secure them properly? The arguments for bans and registration thus become much more compelling, especially given the recent depressing news that even young Catholic girls are now getting into the school-shooting act. (

As last year’s events in Canada demonstrate, the lag between registration and confiscation can be surprisingly short. Canadian politicians promised their constituents that registration would never lead to confiscation. Justice Minister Alan Rock contended, “there is no reason to confiscate legally owned firearms.” But just 10 months later more than half a million registered handguns were confiscated. California gun owners have taken note and many have refused to comply with the new requirement that all “assault weapons” in the state be registered by January 1, 2001.

If firearms owners in the U.S. want to prevent any more infringements on their Second Amendment freedoms they had better fight the new, intrusive gun locks tooth and nail. What is voluntary today will be mandatory tomorrow and politicians from Dubya (who gave gun locks out for “free” in Texas) to Parris Glendening don’t care that these devices are defective or a hindrance at 3:00 a.m. when you awaken to a strange noise downstairs (“Honey, get the baseball bat. I can’t find the trigger-lock key.”). The NRA humiliated Glendening in a commercial containing footage from his gun lock goof-up. Instead of hiding his head in shame, Glendening became livid and called the adoring press to his side saying, “The fact is, the trigger lock worked.” Really.

Even more revealing was a story from St. Louis that was published the day after the Glendening farce. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that although St. Louis Sheriff Jim Murphy accepted a donation to the city of 5,000 new gun locks to give away to the public, the city’s mayor Clarence Harmon killed the plan. It turns out that Harmon feared that the giveaway would hurt the viability of his city’s pending lawsuit against gun manufacturers.

Mayor Harmon says to this day that he believes trigger locks will save thousands of children’s lives. The kicker is, even if he truly believes this, when it came to his perceived choice between money and saving the lives of children, he clearly chose money. This is yet another smoking gun (pardon the pun) demonstrating that the gun-control crusade at its core is really about nothing more than redistributing power and wealth to an increasingly-centralized political elite. By the way, expect to see pathological liar Sarah Brady continue to see no irony in her complaint that pro-gun Congressmen “endanger children’s lives for money.” It’s a luxury of thoughtlessness for the elite who lives behind six-foot fences and security guards in Georgetown.

March 16, 2001

Dale Steinreich, Ph.D., is a research associate of the Mises Institute who writes frequently for and the investment advisory service