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By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Monday January 07, 2002

As of January 1, anyone buying a firearm also has to buy a trigger lock thanks to a first-of-its-kind state gun control law, which advocates say will prevent accidental gun deaths, especially among children. 

The law, co-authored by assemblymembers Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley and Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, requires gun dealers to sell trigger locks to their customers when they purchase firearms or require the customer to sign an affidavit stating that they have a secured area to store the firearm, such as a safe.  

Director of state Affairs for Americans for Gun Safety Mark Chekal-Bain said the law will also require law enforcement agencies to send accidental shooting reports to the state Department of Health and Human Services so that the information can be analyzed and possibly used to fashion other preventative legislation.  

“When this law was written in 1998, there were 100 unintentional deaths in California and untold numbers of injuries due to accidental gunshot wounds,” said Chekal-Bain who assisted in developing the law while he worked for Scott as an legislative aide.  

“This new law will go a long way in reducing those deaths,” he added. 

There are no licensed gun shops in Berkeley but Bob Weaver, owner of the Old West Gun Room in El Cerrito, said the new law is difficult for gun dealers to understand and will accomplish little besides making criminals of otherwise law abiding customers. He says many will simply sign the affidavit instead of bothering to purchase the lock. 

“Anytime you make anything too difficult to obey, you turn people into criminals,” he said. “People are going to have a choice of buying a lock or signing a form, which one do you think they’re going to do?” 

The law was signed by Governor Gray Davis in August 1999 but did not go into effect until this year so 41 different trigger-lock devices could be thoroughly tested to determine which locks best matched the various types of firearms. 

“This law develops, for the first time anywhere in the world, standards for trigger locks, cable locks and trigger guards.” Chekal-Bain said. “All the locks have been tested and matched to specific firearms so the locks will be as effective as possible.” 

Chekal-Bain went on to say the state of Massachusetts is currently using California’s trigger-lock law as a model for similar legislation.  

Aroner’s Legislative Director Hans Hemann, said previous bills were not easy to pass under former Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration but as soon as Davis came into office, it was clear the environment towards gun control laws had changed. 

“We put similar bills on Gov. Wilson’s desk four and five times and they were all vetoed,” Hemann said. 

Hemann added that Davis gave indications early on that he was interested in the law and that Attorney General Bill Lockyer was also enthusiastic about the legislation.  

Weaver says he does not anticipate that the change in law will have a detrimental effect on gun sales, but he did suggest it will have an effect on legal gun sales. Weaver also says he doubts it will do much to prevent accidental shootings.  

“Those who were too dull to protect their children before this went into effect aren’t going to do so now,” he said.  

But Chekal-Bain disagrees.  

“Most gun owners are law abiding, and I think they will obey this law and if they don’t I would be shocked,” he said. 

Berkeley resident Lynn Dix, who became a strong advocate for the law after losing her 15-year-old son in an accidental shooting in 1994, said she did not want to comment on the new law until she had time to review its wording.  

But Dix, who testified on behalf of the law to the state legislature, described the pain of losing her son on the Pacific Center for Violence Prevention’s Web site. 

“From the moment I was told that my 15-year-old son was shot and killed, I felt like my world had utterly collapsed. His sudden absence weighed heavily on my mind and heart. It was permanent, final; it was forever. I would never see him again the rest of my life. I could hardly bear to contemplate it,” she wrote.