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Gun locks available to county residents

December 26, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Homes throughout Washington County will be safer on New Year's Eve if the National Shooting Sports Foundation has its way.

That day, county residents will be among 223,000 throughout the state who will be able to pick up free gun locks through the foundation's federally funded Project ChildSafe program.

Free gun locks will be distributed on Dec. 31 at the Hagerstown, Hancock and Smithsburg police departments, as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Department, according to a NSSF news release.

Project ChildSafe is designed to help make homes with firearms safer by raising awareness about responsible ownership and storage, the release said.

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Regional Manager Lori O'Connell said the locks, along with gun safety handbooks, will be distributed to various law enforcement agencies throughout Maryland from Sunday through Jan. 6. She said the handbooks and more than 20 million gun locks will be provided for distribution at police stations throughout the nation.

"It ensures everyone has a chance to pick them up," O'Connell said. "The main goal is to make sure guns are being stored safely and prevent any accidents."

O'Connell said 3 million free gun locks were distributed at events such as county fairs in 2002 through the NSSF's similar Project HomeSafe program. This year's offshoot of that, Project ChildSafe, was made possible by a $50 million grant from the Department of Justice and will allow for more widespread distribution, O'Connell said.

"The demand was out there - people were contacting us in droves," she said. "We would bring hundreds of thousands to state fairs, but now people in every community can get them right in their community."

O'Connell also said the gun locks being distributed this year will be of a "higher quality" than ones given out in 2002, O'Connell said.

The NSSF, founded in 1961, has more than 2,500 members nationwide. The group promotes safety and education for gun owners, according to the Project ChildSafe Web site.

Michael Moats of the Hagerstown Police Department lauded the program. He said efforts such as this drastically have lowered gun accidents, especially those involving children, in recent years.

"I think it's a good idea anytime you can make a gun safer," Moats said. "Especially around kids, that's great."

Smithsburg Police Department Chief Mike Potter said he was interested in participating in Project ChildSafe as soon as he heard about it. Potter said the issue was especially interesting to him because of the large number of gun owners in Smithsburg.

"After reading the details, I thought it was worthwhile because we want to be proactive in crime prevention, not wait until something occurs," Potter said. "It's just an added way the police department can help the community."

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