LaVern Linberg was pleasantly surprised Wednesday morning as he made his way into Wal-Mart to buy cat food.
Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood, R-Chicago, was camped out in front of the Carbondale Wal-Mart as part of a six-week tour to promote gun safety. Wood stepped out of a mini-van and proceeded to a metal podium to offer a few words on the importance of gun safety.
Linberg, who refers to himself as a “strong Republican,” was happy when a simple trip to the store turned into a chance to meet and talk with a state Republican.
“I thought, golly, what an honor to speak with her,” said Linberg, a Carterville resident.
Wood was inspired to get involved with the program while riding on a train with President George W. Bush when he was the Texas governor. Bush told her about a similar program in Texas and her interest was sparked.
“It’s been wildly successful,” Wood said. “If we can reduce one death, one accident, then it’s been a success.”
The HomeSafe van broke down last Tuesday according to Wood’s press secretary, Katie Hutchinson, so a small tent was set up to house the locks and provide shade from the hot mid-morning sun. The crowd, consisting of only Linberg and members of the press, was dodging Wal-Mart traffic.
Wood, as well as many other lieutenant governors across the nation, has signed onto Project HomeSafe and is distributing free gun locks and firearms safety kits through Saturday.
The project started out with 75,000 gunlocks, and more than 70,000 have been distributed in Illinois. Project HomeSafe, a program spearheaded by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, has a goal to hand out 3 million locks nationwide, said Kara Sullivan of Project HomeSafe.
The gun safety tour and locks were all funded by a federal grant from the Department of Justice. Illinois State Police Lt. Tom Stehley is also on board with the gun safety program. Staley said that when an officer signs on to the force he is issued a gunlock and that all gun-owners should keep their guns safe.
“You hear the news stories and it’s tragic. Parents need to remember that kids are curious,” Stehley said. “They’re going to look through drawers and closets. You can’t have a loaded gun in the house.”
Chris Boyster from the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence spoke on behalf of the organization, but more as a parent. He said that in 1999, there were 481 suicides and 22 unintentional shootings with handguns.
Free gunlocks are also available online at www.freegunlock.com. Wood, as well as Project HomeSafe, encourages every Illinois gun owner to take advantage of the free gunlocks and firearm safety kits.
“Gun Violence is an issue that does plague this state,” Wood said. “We want to encourage parents to take an active role in gun safety.”
Arin Thompson can be reached at [email protected]