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James Bond inspires US bill to require smart guns for all

Second Amendment meets 007

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American gun manufacturers will have to fit smart technology to their products if a new bill from US Representative John Tierney (D-MA) comes into force.

The Personalized Handgun Safety Act of 2013 would give gun manufacturers two years to fit all guns with technology that would allow only the owner (or an authorized user) to fire them. Current gun owners would have three years to retrofit such technology to existing guns if they are offered for resale, using funds provided by the Department of Justice.

"Last month, a 6-year old in New Jersey 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," said Congressman Tierney, who says he was inspired by Daniel Craig's personalized Walther PPK/S, seen in the movie Skyfall.

"Whether a gun owner or not, a 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."

The bill doesn't specify what kind of smart gun technology should be used, but sets aside funds for research to be conducted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) into suitable systems. The NIJ was tasked with investigating options for personalizing guns by an Executive Order signed by President Obama in March.

Currently there are a number of suggested ways of smartening up guns so that they can only be fired by the owner, broadly split between radio identification and biometrics. Shotgun manufacturer Mossberg has had such a system via an RFID ring, dubbed iGun, for over a decade, and Colt tried a similar system using a bracelet before abandoning it.

The other solution is to use biometric sensors embedded in the gun, typically in the grip, which either scan the user's palm print or check other biometric factors to lock the gun's mechanisms if the wrong person picks it up. (Hopefully no one's working on a Lawgiver like Judge Dredd's that explodes when fired by someone with the wrong palm print.)

But all of these smart systems change the nature of a gun from being a purely mechanical device relying on the chemical energy of the round to fire, into something which requires batteries. The thought of having to use a weapon and realizing you've failed to charge it is the chief reason the National Rifle Association and others cite against any such moves.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said that any such move would amount to a "a luxury tax on self-defense," which would impose extra cost – and possible reliability issues – on those Americans who exercise their second Amendment rights.

"We believe that the technology does not exist today where a so-called smart gun can operate with 100 per cent or close to it reliability," he told the Miami Herald, "and a firearm that does not function when it is required to is not a smart gun."

The bill is an ambitious one, but has a snowflake's chance in hell of passing. A law requiring simple background checks on gun buyers failed in the Democrat-led Senate despite 90 per cent public approval, so getting this bill through the Republican House would require a major upset. ®

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