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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Students make childproof gun
students with gun
Students spent eight months and $4,500 on the device
A device that keeps young children from firing a handgun but presents no obstacle to adults has been invented by two students on an undergraduate mechanical engineering course.

In pilot tests conducted by the students, children up to seven years old could not defeat the system, which works by covering a pistol's existing safety lever.

Adults, however, were able to move the weapon into a firing mode within three seconds.

In an important added precaution, the device automatically switches the gun back to "safe" mode as soon as the weapon leaves the adult's hand.


The students, Richard Glorioso, aged 21, of Baltimore, and Bryan Rydingsward, aged 22, of Canton, Connecticut, designed and built the safety device during a two-semester course at Johns Hopkins University, in which students tackle real-world engineering assignments.

close up of cover
Cover will spring back when gun is put down
They are now seeking to interest gun manufacturers in the low-tech durable device, which they estimate would add no more than $35 to a handgun's retail price.

They spent only $4,500 on development, and confined themselves to the simple springs and other mechanical parts that are already used in conventional handguns - there are no electronic components, keys or combination locks.

The sliding cover is fastened on to the barrel of a 9mm semiautomatic pistol, forcing the safety lever into the position that prevents the gun from firing.

When two buttons are depressed, the cover slides open, exposing the safety switch and allowing the user to put the gun into its "fire" mode.

Minimal practice

Small children lack the dexterity, finger strength and mental agility to open the sliding door, the students discovered during tests with young children.

There is overwhelming public support for making guns more childproof but manufacturers haven't responded

Project sponsor, Andrew Lincoln
Yet these children's mothers had no trouble opening the cover.

That was important, the students said, because adult gun owners want to be able to arm themselves quickly if they hear a home intruder at night.

Richard Glorioso said that with only minimal practice "you could open the cover and flip the safety lever with your eyes closed."

But what if the "intruder" turned out to be merely a noisy family pet, prompting the sleepy gun owner to set the weapon down somewhere where a child might later pick it up?

As a secondary precaution, the engineering students, with help from laboratory administrator, Curt Ewing, added another mechanism to the handle of the gun.

Public support

As a result, when the grip is released, the cover automatically springs shut and returns the safety lever to its "safe" position.

"This device does the two main things we hoped it would do," said project sponsor Andrew E. Lincoln, assistant scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

"First, it provides a means of protecting young children without inconveniencing the gun owner in terms of time or excessive cost. And second ... it doesn't require the adult to do anything other than put the gun down to re-activate the safety."

Mr Lincoln added: "There is overwhelming public support for making guns more childproof. Despite that kind of support, the manufacturers haven't responded ... We wanted to show that a device like this could be designed and built over an eight-month period. The students proved it could be done."

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