Inspired by the latest James Bond movie, U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass) is pushing a bill that would require all U.S. handgun manufacturers to include "personalization technology" in their weapons.
The Personalized Handgun Safety Act of 2013 (H.R. 2005) would mandate that all newly manufactured handguns be "personalized" within two years, offering a modern-day solution to the persistent problem of gun violence.
The bill would also require that existing weapons be retrofitted with the technology within in three years before they could be sold.
Tierney said the technology would allow weapons to "recognize" their owners -- or others authorized to fire them -- and could prevent accidents that claim the lives of thousands, including small children, every year.
In a statement, Tierney cited the case of a 6-year-old in New Jersey who last month accidentally shot and killed a 4-year-old child.
"Accidents like this are not as rare as we want to believe, and they are preventable," Tierney said. "Whether a gun owner or not, an NRA member or not, we should be able to agree on gun safety measures that will make our families and communities safer. This technology needs to be put into action."
Tierney said he got the idea for the bill from the latest James Bond film, Skyfall. In it, Bond escapes death when his handgun, which is equipped with technology that recognizes him as its owner, becomes inoperable when a bad guy picks it up.
"This technology, however, isn't just for the movies -- it's a reality," Tierney said.
Under development for more than a dozen years, "personalization technology, better known as "smart gun technology" could use a person's unique grip, fingerprints or an RFID chip to disable the gun's hammer, firing pin or trigger.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, the official state association of the National Rifle Association, said he knows of no gun owners who would want smart gun technology on their weapons.
"It's a little bit disingenuous for a congressman like Tierney to be giving us examples on how to fix issues when he virtually knows nothing about firearms, nothing about the firearms industry and nothing about firearms owners," Wallace said. "Are there any legitimate gun owners who are calling for this technology for safety? I haven't heard of one."
Wallace said any technology that may impede the proper function of a weapon is a problem. He pointed to the fact that any integrated processer technology would also require a battery of some kind, which could pose a system failure if it lost power.
"Also, if I happen to be carrying in public and something happens to me, that means no one else can use my firearm in their defense," he said. "Sometimes when ideas like this come up, my first response is, try it on law enforcement first. If they don't like it, then why should we take it."
There are several forms of smart gun technology under development. Dynamic Grip Recognition technology, for example, uses sensors in a gun's grip, which, like voice-recognition technology, can be trained to recognize a particular person's grip pattern profile to determine authorized and unauthorized users.
Others smart gun technologies include fingerprint recognition through infrared readers and the use of RFID radio chips that, like a car, only enables a gun when a person carrying the chip is holding it. Technologists developing smart guns say multiple users, even thousands of them, could have their unique identities programmed into a weapon.
Biometrics technology proponents readily admit that their systems can be thwarted, and no single technology or piece of legislation will solve the gun safety problem. There are also logistical issues. For example, what if the person carrying the gun forgets his or her RFID chip and can't operate the weapon?
In response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December, President Barrack Obama issued an executive order directing the National Institute of Justice to conduct a study on the state of various smart gun technologies.
Safe Gun Technology (SGTi) co-founder Charlie Miller believes his company's technology could have stopped Adam Lanza from killing 26 in Newtown, Conn. last December.
Columbus, Ga.-based SGTi's technology uses fingerprint recognition through an infrared reader. The biometrics reader enables three other physical mechanisms that control the trigger, the firing pin and the gun hammer.
Like other smart gun technology companies, however, SGTi has found itself with a lack of funding to produce a product. In fact, current prototypes of some smart gun technologies are based on 10-year-old microprocessors because of a lack of funds, according Donald H. Sebastian, senior vice president for research and development at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
A half dozen campus police at the NJIT already carry smart guns developed on campus that prevent unauthorized use by disabling the trigger mechanism through Dynamic Grip Recognition technology. "We have found no interest on the part of gun manufacturers in commercializing any aspect of user-authenticating weapons," Sebastian said in a December interview with Computerworld.
In addition to requiring handguns to be fitted with smart gun technology, the Personalized Handgun Safety Act of 2013 would:
Authorize grants, to be administered through the National Institute of Justice, for further development and improvement of personalized handgun technology.
Direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create a safety standard for personalized handguns that all newly manufactured handguns must meet.
Fund the retrofitting of older guns through the Asset Forfeiture Fund at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Cash confiscated by the DOJ and proceeds from the sale of other confiscated property is deposited into the fund.
Hold gun manufacturers liable if they produce guns that do not meet the CPSC safety standard two years after the passage of the bill.
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