A curious toddler explores his mother's bedroom while his infant sister sleeps nearby. Thinking her children are safe, the mother walks to the kitchen to fix lunch.

It never crosses her mind that the gun she bought last year - to protect her home and her children - was within her son's reach, unlocked and loaded in the night stand drawer next to the bed. She is reminded by a deafening blast of gunfire. Her children were left alone for just a few minutes, but that was long enough.Unfortunately, such as tragedy is more than a possibility. More than 400 children are killed every year by accidental shootings.

Earlier this summer, I challenged the Senate to take action to stop this senseless bloodshed by offering a simple proposal requiring that all handguns sold in the United States include a child safety lock.

There is ample precedent for this kind of federal safety standard. For example, automakers are required to include seat belts with all new cars.

Child safety locks are simple and inexpensive devices that prevent the use of a firearm by unauthorized users. The most common child safety locks are trigger locks, which fit over the trigger of a gun, and chamber locks, which fit into a firearm's chamber, preventing it from discharging.

Lock boxes - storage cases specially designed to hold guns securely - are also considered child safety locks. These devices are usually locked with a key, although combination and other kinds of locks are available. Quality safety locks cost as little as $5.

Most important, child safety locks work. Even Gun Tests magazine, a publication for gun collectors, agrees, "If a lock is properly designed, it will ward off the curious fingers of those too young to handle firearms responsibly, while conveniently preserving access to guns used for self-protection."

More than a dozen of our nation's largest firearms manufacturers agreed last year to include them on all new handguns they sell by the end of 1998.

Unfortunately, dozens of unscrupulous gunmakers have not followed this lead. If Congress fails to take action requiring the sale of child safety locks, an estimated 350,000 handguns will be sold next year without a child safety lock.

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers, one our nation's largest police organizations, strongly supported my proposal.

Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association rallied enough allies to defeat my proposal. But this is only a temporary setback. Shortly after the Senate voted on my proposal, a woman from my home state of California called me and told me that her son was shot with a stolen gun that had been stored unlocked and loaded.

She wants to tell her story to the senators who voted against my child safety lock proposal. I know that when they listen to her, and to the stories of thousands of parents like her, they will change their minds.

I will keep pushing Congress to act, but gun owners shouldn't wait to purchase a safety lock. Virtually all gun stores, and most large hardware stores, stock a wide variety of quality safety locks. If you keep a gun in the home, get a safety lock today. It could save your child's life.