TOPICS > Politics

Background: Targeting Guns

March 2, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Tuesday’s classroom shooting of one 6-year-old by another sent shockwaves through the Michigan community where it happened, and across the nation. Police say a first-grade boy, whose name is withheld, fired one shot from a stolen handgun he found at his home. It killed classmate Kayla Rolland. Her father, Ricky Rolland:

RICKY ROLLAND, Victim’s Father: He knew what he was doing. The kid knew what he was doing. He knew how to fire a gun, from somebody teaching him. Kids just don’t pick guns up and know what to do with them if they’re not taught.

KWAME HOLMAN: Prosecutors have said they will not charge the 6-year-old boy, but today they filed involuntary manslaughter charges against a 19-year-old man who lived at the boy’s address.

ARTHUR A. BUSCH, Genesee County Prosecutor: I hope that this prosecution can send a message to America that those guns that you think make you safer make our community more dangerous. The fact that a stolen weapon from a residence was used in such a fashion is absolutely abhorrent to all of us.

KWAME HOLMAN: This latest shooting involving children has prompted renewed calls for stronger gun controls, including mandatory gun safety locks and more money for research into ‘smart guns,’ which can be fired only by the adults who own them. President Clinton spoke about the issue this afternoon at the White House.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: We do need the child trigger locks. That child would be alive today if that gun had had a child trigger lock on it that the other 6-year-old child could not have fired. And that — we just need to — we’ve got to have it. We have got to have it.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president today also asked congressional leaders to meet with him next week to seek ways to move gun control legislation that stalled in Congress last year. And in the wake of Tuesday’s school shooting, the leading presidential candidates all endorsed new gun safety measures.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: We need child safety trigger locks. And we need to ban junk guns and Saturday night specials. We need to require a photo license I.D. for the purchase of a new handgun. We need to reinstate the three-day waiting period under the Brady Law.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Hopefully what’ll happen is technologies will develop where guns can’t be used unless they match the certain handprint of the owner.

KWAME HOLMAN: The National Rifle Association, however, said tragedies like the Michigan school shooting could be prevented if Congress focuses on gun safety measures such as trigger locks, and avoids the controversial broader gun controls contained in last year’s crime bill. President Clinton and most Democrats supported the more comprehensive bill. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called the legislation ‘a phone book volume of federal regulation that only hits the law-abiding, not the criminal.’

GUN CO. SPOKESMAN: It also has an on-off switch, we call it a grip switch on the grip.

KWAME HOLMAN: Colt, one of the country’s major gun manufacturers, has pioneered research into ‘smart gun’ technology which uses a microchip in a wrist band to recognize the gun owner. Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest handgun manufacturer, now ships a trigger lock with each of its handguns. Another technology, developed by a Connecticut company, uses fingerprints to enable a gun to be fired. The company’s CEO explains:

STEVE MORTON, CEO, Oxford Micro Devices: Into the handle of a gun we embed a very, very high speed fingerprint image sensor. The idea is you would grab the gun, as you wrap your finger around the gun, the finger falls upon the sensor. The image instantly goes into one of our image processor chips, and in a flash, in less than a tenth of a second, the gun would recognize if you are authorized to fire the gun.

KWAME HOLMAN: Despite widespread endorsement of ‘smart gun’ technology, manufacturers say it could be several years before such weapons are on the market.