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by Justin Swift

September 26, 2001

I worked with some friends selling videotapes at the most recent Cow Palace gun show, and while on a break walked around to see the other tables. During my walk, I did something I rarely do: I completely ignored a table. Why? Signs at the table read FREE GUN LOCKS. On seeing these I immediately dismissed this as an attempt by either a manufacturer or a dealer "to appease the tiger in hopes of being eaten last," and paid the table and those manning it the attention I felt they deserved.

On the second day of the show, a woman came up to me and said she’d heard we had a BB gun for sale. As it happened, we did have a lone AirSoft pistol for sale on a table holding closeout merchandise, and brought it to her. I then saw the gun lock in her hand and realized who she was.

"I’m trying to get something so I can show how this lock goes in a gun. I have pictures, but most people understand it better when they see it for themselves." As she said this, she was attempting to open the lock, a Master padlock with a cable for a shackle rather than a bar. Despite the keys being in it, she failed to open the lock until another customer reached over and managed the Herculean effort of twisting the key 45 degrees. She then handed me the lock.

Looking at it, I knew the cable wouldn’t fit, but tried inserting it into the bore for her benefit: "The bore’s too small for this. Besides," I said, racking the slide, "there’s no open chamber or ejection port for the cable to come out. This won’t do it for you."

"Well aren’t there plastic training guns that the police use that have chambers?"

I replied, "No. Those are solid plastic, used for disarming and retention practice. Besides, no one here has those for sale."

"Well, how much do real guns cost? Maybe I could get one of those--I don’t know much about them." No kidding, I thought, but couldn’t bring myself to say.

"I wouldn’t try putting this down anything smaller than a .38," I said, "and the cheapest one of those would probably be somewhere around $200. Besides, per California law, all real guns at gun shows have to have their actions tied shut, so you wouldn’t be able to put the lock on it anyway if you had one."

She appeared baffled by this, and said "But aren’t there plastic guns like the police have that would work?" Didn’t we just cover this? I thought, holding my tongue and trying not to hold my head.

"No--they might have old guns that have been deactivated and painted red. They’d have the firing pins ground off and so forth, but those obviously wouldn’t be for sale. You’d have to buy a real gun and have the same work done to it." Throughout this exchange, her eyes seemed to glaze over every time I explained the reality of the situation to her. I omitted the maze of hoops she’d have to jump through in order to actually buy a real gun; I didn’t think she could handle that. She paused, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Oh, well," and walked off. I recounted some of what had happened to my friends, who had witnessed part of this conversation, thinking what a granolahead! It occurred to me that any organization that attracted people like this deserved to be defunded, and I determined to do my part. A half hour or so later, I went to their table to claim my free gun lock.

When I arrived at the table, Granolahead was waiting for me, and opened a photo album depicting guns with their lock installed. She said, "See, I have pictures, but a model would really be better," as if I rather than she had been asleep during our last conversation. I then picked up a gun lock, and her glazed eyes opened wider. "Oh, good! You’ll need to sign a waiver, though," and she handed me a sheet of paper.

It was a liability release (see below for the text), holding harmless a "Safe Kids" coalition run through Stanford Hospital, in the event the lock was defective or injury resulted from its use.

Flabbergasted, I quickly signed a random name to the waiver (I doubted the name on my nametag--or much of anything else--registered on her conscious mind), and picked up another release because this it was so ludicrous, no one would believe me without seeing it. She looked uncomfortable when I took the second release, but said nothing.

I read the release in greater detail during a down moment at our tables. The back of the thing that I hadn’t read earlier requested information such as name and address, but promised this information would only be used to notify participants if the lock was recalled. Great--gun registration for the truly dimwitted, I thought. I had to wonder at the liability release, though: if this coalition’s lawyer knew that using a gun lock might result in injury to the user either by failure or delay of action, why did it not occur to the rank and file before they came up with this idea?

All in all, it wasn’t a total loss. I came away with a good laugh, a textbook example of what talk show host Geoff Metcalf calls a person "who doesn’t let facts interfere with their preconceived opinions," and most of all, a free, street-legal pocket flail. Thanks, Granolahead!

The two-page Liability Release Form:  
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California "Safe Kids Coalition" Website:

Some misinformation on this site can be found here:

Articles on Triggerlocks: