SD29 - Personalized Handguns

Executive Summary:
In 1999, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolutions 377 (Howell) and House Joint Resolution 679 (Almand) directing the Virginia State Crime Commission to study and evaluate the technology known as personalized handguns. Specifically, SJR 377 and HJR 679 requested that the Crime Commission:

• Review the status of present technology to develop personalized handguns;

• Present the future accessibility and availability of personalized handguns; and

• Determine the feasibility of developing future legislation regarding personalized handguns.

Staff Findings

The Crime Commission found:

• Personalized handguns are firearms that, by definition and design, cannot be discharged by anyone other than the gun's owner or his or her authorized designee.

• According to data available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Institute of Justice, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, unauthorized handgun shootings result in death or injury to numerous Americans each year. Specifically, 6 of the 61 police officers feloniously killed in 1998 (approximately 10%) were shot with their own service firearm after it was taken away by a perpetrator. In 1997, (the most recent year for which data is available), guns killed 31,436 people in the United States, making gun-related deaths the 2nd leading cause of injury death in the United States overall. However, gun death was the 3rd leading cause of death for 10-14 year olds and the 2nd leading cause of death for 15-14 year olds. Specifically, firearms unintentionally killed 142 children, 14 years old and younger. In 1997, 54% of all gun deaths were suicides, 42% were homicides, and 3% were unintentional. The data further indicates handguns are the weapons of choice for home defense, suicide, and criminal behavior. Nearly 1 in every 4 households in the United States contains a handgun. Furthermore, 259 people ages 19 and under were unintentionally killed by a firearm in the United States, and 51 Virginians ages 19 and under committed suicide with a firearm in 1996 (the most recent year for which data is available).

• According to the New England Journal of Medicine, in homes with guns, the homicide of a household member is almost 3 times more likely to occur than in homes without guns and the risk of suicide of a family member is increased by nearly 5 times.

• According to the Fall 1998 National Gun Policy Survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, 88% of the general public and 81% of gun owners support legislation requiring all new handguns to be childproof. Furthermore, 75% of the general public and 59% of gun owners favor legislation requiring all new handguns to be personalized.

• Currently, seventeen technologies exist that are either being used or may be suitable for use in personalized firearms. Each technology identified is in a different stage of development.

• While some low-tech, mechanical versions of personalized handguns are already available, most, high-tech electronic and biometric personalized handgun technologies are in the prototype or concept stage of development.

• Staff identified six personalized handgun technologies currently available commercially. Three technologies rely on the user to wear a magnetic ring to authorize the firearm to discharge. One technology requires the user to enter a combination on a set of toggle switches prior to shooting the gun. Two contain integrated key locks incorporated into the gun which require the user to use a key to unlock the mechanism and fire the gun.

• Staff identified four personalized handgun technologies in the prototype stage of development. Two rely on the user entering a combination on a built-in lock; one requires the user to wear a small bracelet that emits a radio frequency code to authorize discharge of the handguns; and one discriminates between authorized and unauthorized fingerprints.

• Staff identified seven concept technologies that may be appropriate for use in personalized handguns. These technologies range from remote control to voice recognition to capacitive sensors.


After staff presented the interim report to the Crime Commission during the 2000 General Assembly, members voted to continue to monitor the technology during the second year of the study. Consequently, staff continued to monitor the status of personalized handguns and makes no recommendations in this final report. This final report contains only updated information of the interim findings. Specifically, it updates the status of present technology to develop personalized handguns, and the present and future accessibility and availability of such technology. It also includes legislation in other states.