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LOCKED, not LOADED; State Law Officers See Great Success in Giving Away Gun Safety Devices

By Jack Money, The Sunday Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK)

A gun lock giveaway program designed to prevent accidental or unauthorized uses of firearms didn''t misfire.

Many of the state''s sheriff and police departments have handed out hundreds of locks and are seeking more or expect to give them away without much effort.

It''s all part of a national program called Project ChildSafe, administered by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and funded by a $50 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation said 304,000 gun locks have been distributed to 415 law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma. More than 15 million have been distributed nationwide.

Jim Cox, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, is impressed with the program. "Oklahoma is among the leading states of the country for gun locks distributed to departments," Cox said. "If they are all used, that should make a pretty good dent in safety issues related to the weapons."

It''s too early to tell whether the locks result in reduced accidents and suicides, but Nichols Hills Police Chief Richard Mask has confidence in the program.

Mask said a report released this year by the state Health Department, titled "Injury Free Oklahoma," highlights his concerns.

The report showed suicide is the third-leading cause of death nationally for young people ages 15 to 24.

It also showed that between 1997 and 2001, 3,795 Oklahomans died violently, and 63 percent of those deaths involved firearms.

"Accidental shootings and teen suicides have been a real problem in Oklahoma," Mask said. "If there is a weapon readily available, and someone has reached that point, they will complete the act.

"If they can make it through the day, however, oftentimes they won''t go through with it. So I believe many of these deaths could be prevented if there was not a working gun readily available," Mask said.

State health officials said they applaud gun lock programs.

"I think they reduce or delay access ... but they need to be used, and they need to be used correctly," said Shelli Stephens-Stidham, interim chief of the health department''s Injury Prevention Service.

Stephens-Stidham said the locks are just part of what is needed to create communities and homes free of violence.

"It isn''t just about teaching children to make good choices, we need to also modify our environments to make them safer. Trigger locks help do that," she said.

The locks consist of a padlock attached to about 8 inches of plastic-coated cable. In semi-automatic hand guns, the free end of the cable inserts through the weapon''s magazine breech and into its firing chamber, and then is re-attached to the lock.

In rifles and shotguns, the locks work similarly. In revolvers, one end of the cable goes into a bullet chamber, then is wrapped around to go down its barrel to be re-attached to the lock.

The locks are easy to use but difficult to remove without a key.

"People are being encouraged to take them for safety reasons," said Lt. Rickey Lawrence of the Ardmore Police Department. "It only takes one mistake, and that is something we are never interested in seeing happen. We are handing them out daily."

Capt. Harold Davis of the Idabel Police Department said, "It was easy, I could have given away a lot more."

Idabel distributes the locks at a civic event. Davis said he also convinced about 100 children at the same event to sign pledges they wouldn''t handle guns.

Payne County deputy Roy Blankinship said his agency participated in the program a year ago and gave out about 1,000 locks.

"People are very, very receptive to it. And that is a very good thing. Anything that makes it safer for the kids and people in their homes are the kind of thing we like," he said.

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