MEMPHIS (WMC-TV) - Mike Worley invented the Safety Bullet to bridge a gap.
On one side, curious kids raised by reckless parents/guardians with guns.
On the other, responsible gun-owners who demand fast access to self-defense.
In the middle, a little girl in Panama City, FL, shot to death by her brother playing with Dad's gun in 1995.
"The girl was 6 years old, and she was shot by her 4-year-old brother," said Worley. "No safety device had been used on the gun.
"As a dad, I could not imagine the pure hell that family was going through. I was upset by the story, and then I got mad."
According to a study of accidental shootings by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, there were 363 unintentional shooting deaths in 16 states between 2003 and 2006.
Forty-nine percent of the shootings were inflicted by someone else other than the victims. Of the victims, 78 percent were children -- infants to 14 years old. Of the shooters, 81 percent were under the age of 25.
Half of the cases were family members killing other family members -- brothers, sisters or cousins. Nearly all of them involved a handgun that was not properly secured.
The statistics and the stories inspired the Safety Bullet's design (http://www.safetybullet.com/home.html). It is just like a regular ammo cartridge -- same primer and casing -- but the bullet itself is a neoprene ball.
In a semi-automatic pistol, you plug it on top of the live ammo in a magazine, load it into the chamber and just leave the handgun out where you need to get to it quickly.
"A child happens by -- or the bad guy gets in without you knowing it -- grabs the firearm and pulls the trigger, you're going to hear a sound like a cap gun going off," said Scott Kilby, owner of RangeUSA in East Memphis (www.rangeusa.com) and the West Tennessee dealer of the Safety Bullet. "The neoprene ball expands, seals the slide, and the gun is locked up.
"Or if the attacker gets a hold of your firearm and pulls the trigger on the Safety Bullet round, then it locks up, and they don't have your weapon to use against you."
Responsible gun-owners must train with the Safety Bullet like they would with any other safety device. They can leave their handguns out of a safe or without gun locks, but they must remember to eject it first in order to load a live round.
The Germantown, TN, Police Department is considered a Mid-South leader in children's gun safety programs, including the National Rifle Association's Eddie The Eagle campaign.
Chief Richard Hall said he appreciated the Safety Bullet's concept, but because it can be ejected like a standard cartridge, he is concerned it might foster a false sense of security.
"It is our belief that handguns should be stored in gun safes when not in use or, at the very least, secured with trigger locks if they cannot be stored in a safe," Hall said.
"In most cases of accidental shootings no one had used any kind of cable lock, trigger lock and or gun safe," countered Worley. "The reason was simple: most locks are a joke. If you needed your gun in a hurry, and it was locked up by any of the locks that were available, then you would be in a world of trouble."
Susan Helms, director of Le Bonheur Children's Hospital's Safe Kids Coalition, said the Safety Bullet is an ideal device for conscientious gun-owners with small children. But she said she had concerns about its use in homes with teenagers, especially troubled teens.
"The risk-taking teenager or the depressed teenager, they have the ability to defeat the Safety Bullet," Helms said. "I think that would be an issue."
"Not to say that this is to, in any way, replace responsible firearm ownership or to properly keep your firearm secured, but for some people, this would be a perfect fit," said Kilby.
"If the Safety Bullet saved just one life, it was worth the effort," said Worley. "To the best of my knowledge, it has already saved 20 kids so far. I sleep well."
The deep kind of sleep -- without the harrowing dreams of a 6-year-old girl being gunned down by her little brother.