Anne Arundel County is taking steps to crack down on firearm-related deaths and injuries by providing free gun locks to residents through local library branches, officials announced Thursday.
The first-in-the-state program is a collaboration between the Gun Violence Intervention Team within the Anne Arundel County Department of Health and the county’s public library system.
Starting Thursday, visitors to Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library, Eastport-Annapolis Neck Library, and Glen Burnie Library will be allowed to pick up two gun locks per household. Those requesting the locks at the circulation desk will not be asked to provide a name or library card number, but are required to be 18 or older.
The program is being funded by a grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime, Prevention and Youth Victim Services.
During a Thursday press conference at the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library, County Executive Steuart Pittman called the initiative a small step but an important one. The program, he said, “doesn’t work without community engagement and community support.”
Storing firearms securely, Pittman said, “protects children and adults by preventing unintentional shootings and gun suicides.”
Superintendent Mark Bedell said he hopes this program will have particular benefits for students, teachers and parents.
Organizers hope free, accessible gun locks may reduce the chance a student brings a firearm into a school, he said, pointing to the mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville last month and the shooting of a teacher by a first-grader in Virginia.
The school system supports the program because it allows “for our students and educators to feel that they can teach and learn in a barrier-free environment, where they’re not under constant attacks of being fearful for their safety,” Bedell said.
Acting Health Officer Tonii Gedin said the public does not always understand why gun violence is considered a public health issue, when in reality, it is one of the most vital.
“I think it’s really critical that we remember that public health is really about protecting and promoting health, and looking at ways to prevent injury and death,” she said. Looking at gun violence through a public health lens means examining the issue through evidenced-based interventions that have proven effective elsewhere.
“No one intervention is going to eliminate all of the different social determinants and factors that lead to gun violence,” Gedin said, “it’s about what are the multiple steps that we can take within our communities to really make sure that we are trying to decrease injuries and deaths related to gun violence.”
Dorothy Paugh applauded the program as she recalled her own connection to gun violence. Paugh, whose father and son both died by suicide using a firearm, told the crowd a program like this may have made the difference exactly 11 years ago to the day, when her son took his own life.
“Most people realize that a toddler, a very young child, is in danger if they pick up a loaded gun. But they might think that a teenager is at less risk because they know the dangers of a gun and they may have had gun safety training,” Paugh said, “But teenagers are also prone to rash decisions and impulsive judgments. ... and they don’t have the perspective to know that things can get better and things can pass.”
“So it’s very important that if you have a gun in your house, it is stored unloaded and locked up. And gun locks can keep someone from an impulsive decision,” Paugh said.
With an overall decrease of 5%, the rate of gun crimes in Anne Arundel County held relatively steady between 2021 and 2022, according to data from the county health department’s website. During the same period, gun-related homicides increased by 30%, to 13 from 10, while gun-related suicides and suicide attempts decreased by half.
The Gun Violence Task Force was created after a mass shooting claimed the lives of five people who worked for the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.
Last month, a federal judge sided with the county on its provision requiring gun stores to display pamphlets about suicide prevention and conflict resolution. The move was challenged by the vocal gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, which asserted the requirement violated the First Amendment.
Firearms are the leading cause of death in children between the ages of one and 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And according to the Pew Research Center, there were more firearm deaths in the U.S. in 2020 than any other year on record.
Pittman said locks will be distributed at more county libraries if the program proves popular.
“The locks are available, please come get one. We hope that the the buzz around this will save some lives,” he said.