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EDITORIAL: Triggering a new law

July 21, 1998

EDITORIAL: Triggering a new law

Of the 65 West Virginia state senators and delegates responding to a recent Charleston Gazette poll, only 11 percent said the recent rash of schoolyard shootings around the nation would cause them to reconsider their positions on gun control.

However, about half said they would favor penalties for those who failed to keep guns out of their children's reach. West Virginia could avoid a lot of trouble (and retain the state's autonomy in such matters) by passing such a bill now.

At present, only 11 states provide penalties for parents whose children find the family gun and use it. It may take one more nationally publicized incident, but certainly there will be a push for a federal law that will hold parents liable for young shooters' actions.

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States that can show that they have an effective law in place may be "grandfathered" into the process, while those that delay will not only face federal scrutiny, but the bad publicity that will result from not appearing to care about the safety of children.

We suggest that unless gun owners keep their firearms in a safe or a securely locked cabinet, that the law require them to be secured with trigger-lock mechanisms. The argument will be made that this would be an additional restriction on law-abiding people, adversely affecting their ability to defend themselves, should a criminal enter their homes.

What we're talking about is not disarming people, but making it more difficult for those who steal firearms or use them without permission to hurt anyone. Drafting a sensible law to mandate such action would not only allow the state to argue that it doesn't need federal intervention, but it may also save some lives in the process.

Whenever there's a tragedy like the one that struck Jonesboro, Arkansas, there's a tendency to seek a quick fix with legislation covering every possible contingency. But this situation requires that just one of two things happen: Either lock up those guns, or make sure they can't be fired by anybody but their rightful owners.

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