AIKEN -- The Aiken County Sheriff's Office is pulling the trigger on gun safety.
As part of a national awareness campaign, the agency is giving away 1,000 firearm locks. And it's the first law enforcement department in the Palmetto State to do so, courtesy of Project HomeSafe.
The sheriff's office on Wednesday joined at least six other cities, including Augusta, that are involved in the program, which promotes safe weapons handling and storage.
Money for the program is generated from the Hunting and Shooting Sports Heritage Fund, which is based on a voluntary 1 percent manufacturer contribution of hunting- and shooting-related sales.
"Part of living in a free society is responsibility," said Sheriff Howard Sellers. "Nationally, the statistics involving accidental firearms deaths are declining and steadily have been for years. But one still is too many."
Those statistics also show that most firearm accidents happen when children find a loaded and unsecured gun, he said.
That happened in Aiken County on April 25 when 6-year-old Darius Cheatham was looking for a bicycle wrench in his grandfather's house. He found, instead, a loaded .22-caliber pistol in a drawer and accidentally fired the weapon, striking and killing his older brother, George. The bullet traveled through a living room wall and struck the boy in the bathroom, where he was playing with a friend.
And in August 1998, 13-year-old Ashley Mantone died of a gunshot wound to the chest. Police said a 12-year-old friend fired the fatal shot while showing off a .22-caliber rifle.
"I'm not saying that gun locks are the only solution. There are others that equally are as effective," Sheriff Sellers said. "It's up to homeowners to decide how they want to store their weapons. But locks are a sure way to keep weapons out of unauthorized hands."
South Carolina and Georgia have no safe storage laws. About 15 states do, including Florida, North Carolina, Texas and, most recently, Massachusetts.
Gun locks will be distributed at the sheriff's office each weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Residents must provide a picture ID and can receive up to three locks. Educational material on firearm safety also is included in the package. For details, call (803) 642-1770.
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.
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