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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment Technological Options for User-Authorized Handguns Misuse of handguns is a significant factor in crime, accidents, suicides, and morbidity in the United States. In recent years, some have looked to advances in technology for a user-authorized handgun (UAHG) to address this problem.1 The idea behind a UAHG is that the weapon “recognizes” the owner(s) or other authorized user(s) and can only be fired when that individual(s), and no one else, wants the gun to fire. A variety of sensor, electronic, mechanical, and other technologies might be used in the design of such a weapon. A basic tenet of gun ownership and use is “reliability,” that is, a gun must fire when an owner wants it to fire and must not fire otherwise. A UAHG must be as close to 100 percent reliable as possible. A successful UAHG design will have to pass a number of hurdles to meet the reliability criterion. For instance, in law enforcement and self-defense situations, the gun must be able to be armed quickly for firing, but an unauthorized person(s) in close proximity to the owner must not be able to fire it. In addition, a UAHG must be designed to take account of the possible failure 1 User-authorized guns are sometimes called “smart” guns or personalized guns. In this report, we generally use the term “user-authorized gun (UAHG),” which both avoids the personification implied in the “smart gun” label and recognizes that guns may have more than one intended user.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment of the embedded technology (i.e., it must have an appropriate fail-safe mode). The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) (www.nae.edu), part of the National Academies (www.nationalacademies.org), is a nonprofit organization that leverages the expertise of its members and others to explore important topics in engineering and technology that have significant economic or social implications. As part of a strategic planning effort that began in 2000, the NAE Council directed the NAE Program Office to examine a number of issues of significant public interest, including UAHGs. For the most part, the feasibility of developing a UAHG has not been informed by sound, objective technical or scientific analysis. NAE’s purpose is to perform a public service by providing an unbiased review of the issue. Over the past decade, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) National Institute of Justice (NIJ), some gun manufacturers, several educational and private institutions, and private inventors have addressed the issue of UAHGs. Beginning in fall 2000, NAE staff began to collect and read existing reports on the topic and to talk with a number of knowledgeable individuals in the gun industry, law enforcement, public health, and other sectors. This exploratory phase culminated in a one-day NAE-funded workshop on June 7, 2002, in Washington, D.C. The workshop focused on three issues: the status and potential of technologies for UAHGs; the possible impact of UAHGs on public health and crime; and product liability concerns. (See Appendix A for a copy of the workshop agenda.) A workshop summary report was published in 2003 (NAE, 2003). The current project, a continuation of NAE’s exploration of the UAHG issue, is focused specifically on the technical dimensions of developing and producing such a firearm. In spring 2004, NAE formed the Committee on User-Authorized Handguns, whose members have expertise in a wide range of relevant disciplines and professional fields. (See Appendix B for a committee roster.) The current project was partially funded by a grant from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. GOAL AND OBJECTIVES The goal of this project is to clarify the technical challenges of developing a reliable UAHG. The goal has four specific objectives: Objective 1. Determine the owner requirements (e.g., reliability, environ-
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment mental constraints, multiple-user capability) of UAHGs for two classes of gun users: (1) those concerned with public safety (e.g., law-enforcement personnel); and (2) those concerned with personal safety (e.g., homeowners protecting themselves and their property).2 Objective 2. Based on the requirements, determine the specifications for UAHGs (e.g., time and ease of arming, time and ease of defeating the mechanism, definition of fail-safe mode, size, weight, etc.). Objective 3. Identify technologies that could satisfy the requirements and specifications. The committee focused specifically on existing technologies, extensions of existing technologies, and new technologies that could be available in a reasonable time frame. Objective 4. Assess the manufacturability and costs of the most promising technologies and estimate when they might become available commercially (technology-readiness assessment). DATA GATHERING The committee gathered information for its assessment from a variety of sources. In addressing Objectives 1 and 2 (requirements and specifications), the committee relied heavily on work by other groups. The first of two reports from Sandia National Laboratories, Smart Gun Technology Project Final Report (SNL, 1996), was particularly helpful. This report includes the results of a comprehensive survey of the needs of the law-enforcement community and rates the potential of technologies available at the time to meet those needs. The second Sandia report, an update of the first, draws the same general conclusions (SNL, 2001). In addition, the committee reviewed a 2001 report by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Few other documents address the technical aspects of UAHGs. 2 The committee recognizes that there are a number of non-law-enforcement user groups in addition to homeowners, including hunters, target shooters, collectors, and those with permits to carry concealed weapons. To the extent that these groups or homeowners wish to use or transport a handgun outside the home and want the ability to use it under adverse environmental conditions, the “homeowner” UAHG as we define it would not be suitable. Rather, the technical requirements for such firearms are likely to be similar if not identical to those for law enforcement.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment To address Objectives 3 and 4, the committee spoke informally and formally with representatives of the gun industry and academic researchers involved in research and development (R&D) on UAHGs. Several individuals met face-to-face with the committee to discuss their past and current work in this area. The committee also was given a briefing by the staff at NIJ, the source of federal funding for R&D on UAHGs. To ensure that the entire landscape of possible technological approaches for UAHGs had been considered, the committee reviewed the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for relevant patents and patent applications. This review revealed that, although a number of patents suggest designs for UAHGs, the vast majority of patents are owned by individuals as opposed to companies. Overall, the committee found few ideas for personalizing handguns that were not described in the Sandia or NJIT reports. The few patents that could be linked directly to gun manufacturers were for designs already known to the committee. Because the goal of the project was not to look into highly speculative technologies or to “design” a wholly new approach to the creation of a UAHG, the committee decided to focus on a limited number of technologies and their implementation, or potential implementation, in a UAHG. These technologies “span the space” of the two classes of users and handgun technologies and, in effect, represent the “survivors” of the larger number of technologies reviewed in the Sandia and NJIT reports. TECHNOLOGY-READINESS LEVELS Based on the handgun designs/technologies chosen for consideration and available public information, the committee made technology-readiness assessments, based on a rating system used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Department of Defense, and others to gauge the maturity of technologies in development (GAO, 1999). The system defines nine technology-readiness levels (TRLs) (Box 1). HANDGUNS AND RESEARCH IN CONTEXT Between 1899 and 2000, U.S. gun manufacturers produced some 217 million guns, 76 million of them handguns, according to federal data collected by the Violence Policy Center (2002). Handgun production topped 1 million annually for the first time in 1968 and has remained above that level ever since.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment The peak year for handgun production was 1993, when 2.8 million were manufactured. In 2003, the most recent year for which data are available, American gun manufacturers produced 1.12 million handguns (BATF, 2005). Handguns historically have accounted for one-third of all guns made in this country. About 80 percent of the guns available in the United States are manufactured here (BJS, 1995). According to the most recent federal data, in 2001 a total of 29,342 people were killed by handguns; 57 percent of these deaths were suicides (Vyrostek et al., 2004). There were 802 unintentional firearm-related deaths that year, and 56,697 people were injured by handguns, nearly two-thirds in assaults. In 1994, the lifetime medical costs of treatment of gunshot injuries in the United States was estimated at $2.3 billion, $1.1 billion of which was paid by the federal government (Cook et al., 1999). Although most crimes are not committed with guns, nearly 90 percent of gun crimes are committed with handguns, and of the roughly 300,000 guns stolen each year, slightly more than half are handguns (BJS, 1995). In 2003, perpetrators of 25 percent of robberies, 7 percent of violent crimes, and 3 percent of rapes and sexual assaults used firearms (BJS, 2004). Studies of adult and juvenile offenders reveal that many of these individuals (between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the study) have stolen a handgun or sold or traded a stolen handgun (e.g., NIJ, 1993). Handguns are often fired by persons other than their owners or other authorized users. Criminals frequently use stolen handguns to commit burglaries and robberies. Handguns are the weapons of choice for people who decide to kill themselves, and in many cases they use weapons obtained from family members or friends. A police officer’s handgun may be taken and fired by a suspect during a struggle or used later to commit a crime. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2003), in the 10-year period between 1994 and 2003, 616 police officers were killed in the line of duty, including 50 who were slain by an adversary using the officer’s own weapon. The number of officers killed with their own weapons has declined from about 15 per year in the 1980s to about 5 per year for the last 15 years. This decline is believed to be due in part to the use of retention holsters and body armor, improved trauma care, and “take-away” training (Christopher Miles, NIJ, personal communication, 9/13/04). Tragically, young children sometimes find and accidentally discharge handguns, injuring or killing themselves or others. In 2001, 72 children aged 14 or younger were accidentally killed by firearms (Vyrostek et al., 2004). The primary method of preventing accidental firearm-related deaths
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment BOX 1 Technology-Readiness Levelsa TRL 1. Basic principles are observed and reported. Scientific research begins to be translated into applied R&D. Examples might include paper studies of the basic properties of a technology. This is the lowest level of technology readiness. TRL 2. Technology concept and/or application has been formulated, and invention of practical applications has begun. Applications are speculative, and there are no proofs or detailed analyses to support assumptions. Examples are still limited to paper studies. TRL 3. Analytical and experimental critical functions are identified and/or characteristic proofs of concept are developed. Active R&D is initiated, including analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology. Examples include components that are not yet integrated or representative. TRL 4. Component and/or breadboardb validation is conducted in a laboratory environment. Basic technological components are integrated to establish that the pieces work together. There is relatively low fidelity compared to the final system. Examples include the integration of “ad hoc” hardware in a laboratory. TRL 5. Component and/or breadboard validation is conducted in a relevant environment. Fidelity of breadboard technology increases significantly. The basic technological components are integrated with reasonably realistic supporting elements so that the technology can be tested in a simulated environment. Examples include “high-fidelity” laboratory integration of components. TRL 6. A representative system/subsystem model or prototype (sometimes called a brass-board model), which is well beyond the breadboard system tested for TRL 5, is tested in a relevant environment. This level represents a major step up in demonstrated readiness. Examples include testing of a prototype in a high-fidelity laboratory environment or in a simulated operational environment.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment TRL 7. A system prototype is demonstrated in an operational environment. The prototype is near or at the planned operational system level. This level represents a major step up from TRL 6 because it requires the demonstration of an actual system prototype in an operational environment, such as in an aircraft, a vehicle, or space. Examples include testing of a prototype in a test-bed aircraft. TRL 8. An actual system is completed and “flight qualified” through testing and demonstration. Technology has been proven to work in its final form and under expected conditions. In almost all cases, TRL 8 represents the end of true system development. Examples include developmental testing and evaluation of a system in its intended operational setting to determine if it meets design specifications. TRL 9. An actual system has been “flight proven” through successful mission operations. The technology has been applied in its final form and under mission conditions, such as those encountered in operational testing and evaluation. In almost all cases, this is the end of the last “bug fixing” aspects of true system development. a The committee notes that TRLs are not intended to account for production readiness or cost. Although the fidelity of the test environment increases from TRL 7 through TRL 9, this testing does not require that an article (or representative lot runs) be manufactured with production tooling, processes, or quality controls. The committee considered this when assigning TRLs to specific UAHG technologies. b Technology at the breadboard stage of development replicates the function but not the configuration of the operational system and is not suitable for field testing. SOURCE: Adapted from GAO, 1999.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment or injuries to minors has been to encourage gun owners to store and handle handguns properly. Storage methods include placing guns in a safe or rendering them otherwise physically inaccessible, using any of a variety of mechanical locks intended to keep guns from firing, and storing guns unloaded with the ammunition and guns in separate locations. Gun owners can also take courses in firearms safety, where they are taught and can practice safe procedures for loading, unloading, and firing handguns. Unfortunately, however, safety procedures are not always followed. Trigger locks and other simple methods of preventing the unintentional firing of guns have been available for decades. Only recently have more sophisticated, technological fixes been the subject of investigation. According to one recent review of the literature, there currently are insufficient data to determine how the introduction of UAHGs into the marketplace might affect handgun-related injuries and deaths (NRC, 2005). Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, funded by NIJ, conducted perhaps the first substantive assessment of the state of the art in UAHG technology (SNL, 1996). The study included the results of a comprehensive survey of law-enforcement personnel to determine their requirements for a UAHG and a comparison of those needs with a range of technologies in existence at the time. (By charter, DOJ, of which NIJ is a part, can study handguns only in the context of law enforcement. However, the results of research funded by NIJ may be applicable to other gun users.) The study found that a number of technologies met at least some of the police officers’ requirements, but there was no acceptable “smart-gun” technology. An updated study was published in 2001, again funded by NIJ (SNL, 2001). In July 1999, the New Jersey legislature appropriated $1 million to NJIT for a review of current and emerging technologies that might be used to create a UAHG. The study was motivated in part by a bill then being considered by the legislature to require all handguns sold in the state to be “personalized” within three years after appropriate technology became commercially available. (The legislation has since become law.) The NJIT report (2001) concluded that the development of a UAHG was feasible and recommended that additional R&D be done on a specific biometric technology, handgrip-pressure recognition. The first recipient of federal funds to pursue the development of UAHG technology was Colt’s Manufacturing Company, which received $500,000 in 1998 to develop a gun with a magnetic-based key-recognition system. Colt abandoned its research on UAHGs in 2000. From 2000 to 2004, the NIJ program provided R&D support to two established
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment gun manufacturers, Smith and Wesson (S&W) and FN Manufacturing, and five research groups, Metal Storm, Mosermation, iGun, Technology Next, and Exponent (Table 1). (For brief summaries of these awards, see Appendix C.) Many of these awards, as well as support for the 2001 update of the first Sandia report, were made possible by a one-time, $8 million congressional appropriation to NIJ for research on UAHGs. Those funds have now been expended, and NIJ does not plan to pursue the program beyond 2004. Congress also earmarked $1.1 million in 2004 and $1 million in 2005 for NJIT to conduct additional R&D on handgrip-recognition technology. Since Colt abandoned its R&D, work done by S&W and FN Manufacturing represents the most advanced developments for a UAHG. NJIT, a rather recent entry in the field, formed partnerships (NJIT, 2003) with Metal Storm Ltd., an Australian company, and Taurus International Manufacturing Inc., a Brazilian company with an office in Miami, to exploit its handgrip-pressure identification technology (TIM, 2003). According to statements by the companies involved, Metal Storm has a patented electronic-ignition technology, and Taurus, which manufactures handguns and other products, had agreed to integrate the electronic ignition with NJIT’s handgrip-pressure biometric in a commercially viable UAHG. However, in February 2005, Taurus announced its withdrawal from the partnership (Tartaro, 2005). In addition to gun manufacturers, a number of other organizations and individuals have a stake, or may have a stake, in the development of a UAHG (Box 2). Although all of these stakeholders have opinions about the desirability of the development of UAHGs, this report focuses largely on gun manufacturers and two user groups: law enforcement personnel and homeowners, individuals who store and intend to use their firearm at home. Law-enforcement officials use handguns to enforce the law, deter criminal activity, and protect themselves. Homeowners use handguns to protect their property, themselves, and their families. Both groups are concerned about preventing the accidental or purposeful misuse of their guns. Law-enforcement firearms kept at home may fall into the hands of an unauthorized family member, such as a child, just as easily as a handgun kept at home by someone not in law enforcement. Similarly, both law-enforcement officials and homeowners face the possibility of having their weapons taken from them in a struggle with an adversary. Despite these
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment TABLE 1 Summary of DOJ/NIJ Contracts for User-Authorized Handguns Award Recipient Approximate Dates Approximate Funding Description/Comments Sandia National Laboratories 1994–1996; updated in 2001 (see later entry) $625,000 Identified technologies to address the police firearm take-away problem. Colt’s Manufacturing Company 1998–2000 $500,000 R&D on a UAHG with a fluctuating magnetic field. Project abandoned in 2000 for lack of follow-on funding. Smith & Wesson (with Lumidigm, a subcontractor) 2000–2004 $3,673,000 R&D on hand-entered PIN, fingerprint identification (the latter now abandoned), and “tissue spectroscopy.” FN Manufacturing 2001–2003 $2,306,000 R&D on microelectronic and radio-frequency identification technologies. Sandia National Laboratories 2000–2001 $70,000 Update previous report and survey commercial off-the-shelf technologies. commonalities, because of the need to accommodate adverse environmental conditions, the technical requirements for a law-enforcement UAHG will be more stringent than for a homeowner firearm. This issue is discussed in greater detail in Objective 1: User Requirements, below. LEGISLATIVE AND LIABILITY CONSIDERATIONS New Jersey is the only state that has passed a law that addresses the issue of UAHGs directly. The New Jersey legislation, passed in December 2002, specifies that “three years after it is determined that personalized
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment Award Recipient Approximate Dates Approximate Funding Description/Comments Mosermation 2001–2004 $300,000 R&D on handgrip characteristics. iGun 2002 $369,000 Study of biometric technologies. Technology Next Inc. 2002–2003 $176,000 R&D on an authorization system for using radio-frequency coding technology. Exponent Inc. 2002–2004 $188,000 R&D on an authorization system based on spectral characteristics of a compound (e.g., special ink). Metal Storm/VLe Small Arms 2002–2003 $185,000 R&D on a total electronic handgun. New Jersey Institute of Technology 2004–2005 $2,130,000a Further R&D on handgrip-pressure technology. a Does not reflect a one-time appropriation of $1 million by the New Jersey legislature to the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1999. handguns are available for retail purposes, it will be illegal … for any dealer or manufacturer to sell, assign, or transfer any handgun unless that handgun is a personalized handgun” (New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, 2C:58-2.2). Under the law, the state attorney general must assess the availability of such firearms every six months. The three-year clock begins to run once he or she determines that the technology is available at the retail level. In 1997, the attorney general of Massachusetts promulgated consumer-safety regulations for guns sold in the state based on laws already on the books. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence (2001),
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment useful for a UAHG. However, at present, the committee is aware of only two true biometrics (skin spectroscopy [by S&W] and handgrip pressure [by NJIT]) that are being adapted for handguns, and neither has reached the level of discrimination required by law enforcement specifications. S&W and NJIT believe they will achieve the required levels of discrimination for skin spectroscopy and handgrip-pressure technology, respectively, but it is a rule of thumb in the biometrics community that data on the sensitivity and reliability of a sensor technology are not considered valid unless or until they have been confirmed by unbiased third-party testing. Both implementations are at a breadboard stage—the sensor is in a realistic configuration in the gun, but the electronics for the reader are external to the gun. Although the miniaturization of electronics is relatively straightforward, the design and manufacturing iterations of the electronics could be costly, and achieving the necessary form factor could be difficult. Lacking a full-up brass-board model, third-party data on discrimination, and convincing identification of users wearing gloves, the committee concludes that both technologies are at a TRL 4,8 at best. The other biometric technologies, which are not being investigated for a gun application, are at TRL 39 or lower. S&W abandoned its investigation of fingerprint technology in the late 1990s after concluding that reliable readings could not be obtained with available technology. (Fingerprint recognition technology has improved since then.) FN Manufacturing concluded that handgrip-pressure technology was unreliable, although NJIT claims that its implementation of this approach will work. Radio Frequency Identification In the technology evaluation in the 1996 Sandia report, RFID tags, which scored the highest, are apparently the only “what-you-have” authorization technology presently used in a gun application. iGun, a subsidiary of 8 TRL 4: Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment. Basic technological components are integrated to establish that the pieces will work together, but the system is “low fidelity” compared to the eventual system. Examples include integration of “ad hoc” hardware in a laboratory. 9 TRL 3: Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept. Active R&D is underway, including analytical studies and laboratory studies to validate analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology. Examples include components that are not yet integrated or representative.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment Mossberg, markets a shotgun with an RFID-authorization system that requires the user to wear a ring that communicates with a transceiver in the gun. Compared with a standard handgun, the larger shotgun, especially the larger stock, provides ample room for on-board electronics and batteries. The iGun website (www.iguntech.com) notes that if the shotgun is exposed to “severe situations, if it gets submerged, thoroughly soaked, or shocked from an unusual drop or impact, it should be returned to the factory immediately.” This suggests the system is not robust enough for either handgun application considered in this study. Metal Storm, which is a partner with NJIT in the development of a handgun with handgrip-pattern-recognition technology, has also advocated a system that would require an authorized user to wear a ring with an RFID tag (Metal Storm, 2003). Barriers to implementing an RFID-authorized UAHG are: possible RF interference; possible reader interference caused by two tags in close proximity; too large or small a reading range (for law enforcement, a reader must not be able to “see” the tag on an officer whose handgun is picked up by an adversary some distance away or limited to detect a tag only at very close range). A significant drawback of RFID technology is that a ring, bracelet, or other accessory worn outside the body containing the tag can be lost or stolen, either rendering the gun unusable by anyone or allowing an unauthorized person, such as a child, to operate it In fact, handgun developers and potential law enforcement users consider this problem insurmountable. Metal Storm’s comments not withstanding, all efforts to use “external” RFID tags to develop a UHAG have been abandoned. One can imagine that law enforcement officers might be willing to have a “chip,” a virtual biometric RFID tag, inserted as a reasonable requirement of the profession. Homeowners, however, may be much less willing to carry an embedded tag, both because of possible health concerns and because of potential privacy issues. But this is primarily a social-acceptability issue, not a technology issue. iGun (2004), which received funding from NIJ to evaluate the potential of various biometric technologies, reached a similar conclusion about the technical merits of implantable RFID chips. In terms of the technology, anyone who has used an RFID building-access system understands that the sensor recognizes authorized entrants in a fraction of a second and appears to the casual observer to have zero FAR and FRR. In short, the technology works quite well. Considering that RFID technology in general is mature and that the development of embedded RFID sensor technology is being driven by
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment medical applications and has been approved by the FDA, the committee rates the embedded sensor technology at TRL 710 or TRL 8.11 However, these RFID authorization systems do not require miniaturized readers. Thus, considerable technology development may still be necessary to fit the reader electronics into the gun. FN Manufacturing has been very circumspect in releasing public information, so it is not clear how much progress has been made toward integrating the RFID reader into a brassboard gun. Nevertheless, because the reader technology should work at the breadboard stage, the committee rates it at TRL 5.12 Latching Mechanisms Gun companies may be expected to have competence and experience in developing the mechanical enable and/or disable mechanism of a gun. However, this is not an easy task. Reliable handguns require precision manufacturing, and they are very compact, which means they have limited clearances for the addition of new mechanical or electromechanical systems. Once again, different developers have taken different approaches to the problem. S&W believes that the electromechanical latching system may compromise reliability and has therefore chosen to develop an all-electronic weapon. FN Manufacturing has chosen to take the mechanical-latch approach. The committee believes that, although an electromechnical latch may not be the most elegant solution, it could be brought to TRL 6 in relatively short order. 10 TRL 7: System prototype demonstration in an operational environment. Prototype near or at planned operational system level. Represents a major step up from TRL 6, requiring the demonstration of an actual system prototype in an operational environment, such as in an aircraft, a vehicle, or space. Examples include testing the prototype in a test bed aircraft. 11 TRL 8: Actual system completed and “flight qualified” through testing and demonstration. Technology has been proven to work in its final form and under expected conditions. In most cases, TRL 8 represents the last level of system development. Examples include developmental testing and evaluation of the system in its intended weapon to determine if it meets design specifications. 12 TRL 5: Component and/or breadboard validation in a relevant environment. Fidelity of breadboard technology increases significantly. The basic technological components are integrated with reasonably realistic supporting elements so that the technology can be tested in a simulated environment. Examples include “high fidelity” laboratory integration of components.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment Electronic Firing Systems The vast majority of guns are fired by the forceful mechanical striking of a primer with a firing pin. However, a properly designed primer can also be ignited with an electrical charge. One simply exchanges mechanical components for a power source. For “regular” guns, that is, not UAHGs, one can debate which system is more reliable and cost effective. Certainly, gun manufacturers prefer mechanical guns. However, the added complexity of an electromechanical locking/unlocking scheme for UAHGs may justify an electronic firing system. Both S&W and NJIT appear to have reached this conclusion. Until very recently, Remington offerred an electronically fired rifle using its own 22-250 and 220 Swift Etronix ammunition. The electronic handgun developed by S&W used the primer from that ammunition and had a conventional magazine. S&W has reported firing 60,000 rounds with prototype electonic weapons with no problems in firing reliability or power-source limitations. S&W indicated that the firing electronics were fully integrated into the gun (Kevin Foley, S&W, personal communication, 4/20/05). Given the experiences of Remington and S&W, the committee judges that the S&W electronic firing mechanism is at least at TRL 6,13 and possibly at TRL 7. NJIT has reported that its handgrip-pressure technology will be interfaced with an electronically fired handgun made by Metal Storm. The design of the Metal Storm gun is radically different from the design of the S&W and Remington electronic guns. In the Metal Storm gun, the projectiles are stacked in the barrel and fired in sequence. Thus, in principle, the gun could have multiple barrels and fire rounds in very rapid succession for extreme firepower. Metal Storm (2003) has built at least two seven-shot “demonstrator” handguns, but the company has provided few details about their reliability. Recently, Metal Storm announced that the timetable for producing a commercial handgun using its technology has been extended because NJIT’s grip-sensor technology was not ready to be integrated with 13 TRL 6: System/subsystem model or prototype demonstrated in a relevant environment. Representative model or prototype system, which is well beyond the breadboard system tested for TRL 5, is tested in a relevant environment (sometimes referred to as a brassboard model). Represents a major step up in a technology’s demonstrated readiness. Examples include testing a prototype in a high fidelity laboratory environment or in simulated operational environment.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment the Metal Storm technology (LHA, 2005). Because this is a rather new concept and even the ammunition will require development, the committee concludes that this technology is at at TRL 3, 4, or 5. The failure mode of a UAHG is a critical issue. With an electromechanical latching system, if the power to drive the latch fails, the gun could be armed, as is necessary for law enforcement, or unarmed, as appropriate for homeowners. If the gun is stolen, the design should be such that removing the latching mechanism will disable the gun. If the power to fire the primer in an electronic gun were lost, the gun would be unarmed, and careful maintanence would be necessary to be certain that power would be available to the primer. If an electronic gun were stolen, efforts to strip the electronics would probably render the gun useless. Replacing or modifying the existing electronics to allow unauthorized access, although technically possible, would be expensive and would be well beyond the abilities of most people. An additional issue (not related to TRL), is that the primer for available electronically fired ammunition is about five times as expensive ($75 for 1,000 rounds) as conventional primer, which results in about a 10-percent premium over conventional rounds. This could have a negative impact on the overall market for electronically fired guns, especially on potential high-volume users of the new primers, such as mid- to large-size police departments, and on sport shooters, who might otherwise have been early adopters because of their interest in novel technologies. Systems Integration Based on the information available, the committee believes that progress on technology integration has been minimal. S&W appears to have successfully integrated the electronic-firing and biometric sensor components, but the electronics for the reader are external to the gun. FN Manufacturing, with support from NIJ, has put a great deal of effort into interviewing law enforcement officers to establish detailed requirements and specifications for a UAHG. The list includes “must haves” as well as “nice to haves.” FN is not required to produce a model until the last phase of the NIJ-supported project, so the extent of its systems integration is not known. NJIT, which has been focused on developing handgrip-pressure authorization technology, and Metal Storm, which is working on novel gun technology, may not have begun working on the integration of these technologies into a weapon.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment Cost Considerations The committee estimates that a moderate design change in a conventional gun would take approximately three years and cost somewhere between $3 million and $4 million (see Appendix D, developed by the committee, for a breakdown of estimated costs). Development costs would be increased by several hundred thousand dollars if electronic ammunition had to be used in testing. The extensive experience of gun companies in the development of gun technologies has kept the costs of conventional guns fairly low. However, the development of a UAHG will require technologies that are beyond the traditional experience base of gun companies. Through the NIJ program, S&W, FN Manufacturing, and NJIT have already spent or will soon spend amounts on UAHG development approaching the development costs of a conventional gun. Nevertheless, in the committee’s judgment of TRLs, no one is close to having integrated brass-board test articles (present systems are at a level of TRL 5 or less). There is little evidence that these groups have begun serious development of enrollment-system technology. Furthermore, these are early-stage costs. Typically, absent an experience base, development costs escalate rapidly from this point forward. The costs will include further development of component technologies, systems integration, extensive testing and evaluation of prototypes, and development of new production tools—all compounded by potential liability issues. Thus, based on the experience of members of the committee in product development, the committee estimates that total costs to bring a single implementation of a UAHG to market could easily reach several times to as much as 10 times what each developer has spent to date, or on the order of $30 million, particularly for a version that uses true biometric authentication. Timing would depend on the rate of investment, but, given the investment capacity of gun companies, it could take 5 to 10 years to reach full production. Compared to the development costs for some products, these costs are still fairly modest. However, as summarized in the NJIT report, the gun industry as a whole is highly leveraged and has minimal capacity for, and a minimal track record of, speculative R&D. It seems to the committee that the development of a UAHG is, indeed, a speculative enterprise because there is no indication, or at least no way to verify, that a significant market will exist for such a gun if it is successfully developed. If the development of a UAHG costs 5 to 10 times as much as the development of a conventional
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment firearm, the developer must either defray those costs over a considerably larger market (which, from the point of view of the gun company, could cannibalize the conventional gun market) or charge a premium price. It is conventional wisdom that a UAHG will not sell if its cost exceeds that of a conventional gun by more than $100 or so. Considering that the additional technology components could easily account for most of that differential, there will be little room for a profit margin. Given the history of R&D in the gun industry and the speculative market prospects for a UAHG, the committee concludes that the NIJ program has been a prime driver of UAHG technology development; thus, NIJ is responsible for much of the real progress, as opposed to concept development, that has been made to date. However, because the fiscal 2005 NIJ budget does not include follow-on funding for UAHG development, it would not be surprising if existing development efforts come to a halt. As a case in point, Colt did not share in the 2000–2004 NIJ program and discontinued its UAHG development. FINDINGS A UAHG for law enforcement presents some very challenging problems. Requirements include a very low FRR and a weapon that can function reliably in adverse environmental conditions, high-stress situations, the presence of dirt, and with users wearing gloves. In addition, both the skin-spectroscopy and handgrip-pressure technologies under development remain unproven, high-risk technologies in terms of the likelihood of successful development. A UAHG for homeowners has less stringent authorization requirements, although no on-gun solution can satisfy all of the requirements today. Inclement weather, dirt, and gloves are not significant factors, assuming the gun remains in the home, but the weapon must recognize an authorized user in a stressful situation, and the gun should share the requirement of a law enforcement gun of being extremely difficult for an unauthorized person intentionally to bypass the security system. However, if the emphasis is on the rejection of an unauthorized user, especially a child, the demands on the sensor are likely to be somewhat less stringent. Thus, in designing a UAHG for homeowners, the product designer must choose between a “perfect”’ solution and a “good” solution. Unlike the biometric technologies being considered, RFID sensing appears to be a relatively low-risk technology that has an extensive, well
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment documented track record in other applications. Like biometric sensors, however, it will require miniaturized components to be integrated into the gun. Although miniaturization will not be a trivial or low-cost undertaking, the committee believes it is doable. The primary drawback of RFID authorization in the past was that it was a “what you have” technology (e.g., a key), which was susceptible to loss. However, with the availability of a tag that can be inserted under the skin of the wrist or hand, RFID authorization becomes a “who you are” technology, like a biometric. User acceptance is an issue, of course, but this appears to be an elegant technical solution. A UAHG can be built with a mechanical or an electronic firing system. Integrating a mechanical latching mechanism into the close confines of a handgun is a demanding task, but gun manufacturers have a great deal of experience in mechanical design. With mechanical latching, the fail-safe mode of a gun can be armed (for law enforcement) or unarmed (as an option for homeowners). Electronic firing of a handgun (60,000 rounds with good success) has been demonstrated by S&W. If the authentication technology in an electronic gun stops working, the gun can also fail unarmed or armed, unless it loses all power, in which case it can only fail unarmed. Although a good deal of progress has been made since the concepts for a UAHG were identified in the 1996 report from Sandia National Laboratories, development has not progressed to the point of producing an integrated brass-board model. Thus all of the concepts still have TRLs of 5 or lower. If efforts to create a UAHG were to be started over using present developments as the baseline, the committee believes that the shortest path to introduction of a commercial UAHG would involve development of a mechanical or electronic gun interfaced with an RFID tag inserted under the skin. Biometric technologies simply have too much uncertainty. The NIJ program has provided several million dollars each to S&W, FN Manufacturing, and NJIT for early-stage technology development. Typically, development costs escalate rapidly as multiple design models are created. The committee estimates it could cost several times to as much as 10 times as much as the redesign of a conventional handgun (about $30 million) and take 5 to 10 years to bring a UAHG to market. The development costs of an embedded RFID with an electromechanical or electronic UAHG system might be near the low end of the cost and time ranges. The development of a true biometric UAHG system would more likely be near the high end. Recent progress in the development of a UAHG has been almost solely
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment due to the NIJ program. However, no follow-on funding has been included in the 2005 fiscal year federal budget for this program. The committee is not aware of any substantive developments outside the NIJ program and, therefore, expects that present development efforts will come to an end when NIJ funding runs out. It is not known what fraction of law-enforcement officers or homeowners would be interested in paying a higher price for a UAHG and accepting the trade-offs that would come with more complicated technology (e.g., the risk that the gun would fail to fire for an authorized person). The Sandia reports of 1996 and 2001 indicated that law enforcement officers at that time were skeptical of the technology, at best. In addition, the number of “takeaway deaths,” the problem a UAHG was intended to address, has decreased to single digits in all but one of the last 13 years for which data are available. Law enforcement might conclude, therefore, that the technology risk is greater than the risk of a takeaway and that they now have less incentive to champion the development of a UAHG or to pay a premium to acquire such a gun. That attitude could change if the weapons were demonstrated to be highly reliable. The number of handgun-related deaths and injuries in the population at large, however, particularly among children who accidentally discharge a loaded weapon and people attempting suicide, suggests that there is a significant danger associated with unsecured handguns in the home. Considering the size of the market for child-safety products, cost may not be as significant an issue in this market. REFERENCES Applied Digital Solutions. 2004. Verichip Corporation enters into a memorandum of understanding for the development of a firearm’s user authorization system—“Smart Gun”—using Verichip RFID technology. Press release. Available online at: http://www.adsx.com/news/2004/041304.html (February 13, 2005). BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). 2005. Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report—2003. Available online at: http://www.atf.treas.gov/firearms/stats/afmer/afmer2003.pdf. (May 23, 2005). BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics). 1995. Firearms, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Guns Used in Crime, by W. Zawitz. Selected Findings. July 1995 NCJ-148201. Available online at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/guic.pdf (April 27, 2001). BJS. 2004. National Crime Victimization Survey, Criminal Victimizations, 2003. Available online at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cv03.pdf (February 9, 2005).
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2001. Targeting Safety: How State Attorneys General Can Act Now to Save Lives. Available online at: http://www.bradycenter.org/xshare/pdf/reports/targetingsafety.pdf (February 10, 2005). Cook, P.J., B.A. Lawrence, J. Ludwig, and T.R. Miller. 1999. Medical costs of gunshot injuries in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association 282: 447–454. FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). 2003. Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted—2003. Available online at: http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/leoka03.pdf (February 9, 2005). GAO (General Accounting Office). 1999. Best Practices: Better Management of Technology Development Can Improve Weapon System Outcomes, edited by L. Rodrigues and P. Francis. GAO/NSIAD-99-162, July 1999. Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office. Available online at: http:/www.gao.gov/archive/1999/ns991620.pdf. iGun Technology Corp. 2003. The Use of Biometrics to Control Access to a Personalized Law Enforcement Handgun. Final report for work completed under contract from the National Institute of Justice. Available online at: http://www.igun.com. LHA (Lippert Heilshorn & Associates). 2005. Metal Storm revises handgun development timetables. Press release dated Jan. 31, 2005. Available online at: http://www.lhai.com/docs/31%20Jan%20Handgun%20release.doc (February 13, 2005). Metal Storm, Inc. 2003. Advanced Smart Gun System for Law Enforcement Applications. Unpublished final report for work completed under contract from the National Institute of Justice. June 2003. NAE (National Academy of Engineering). 2003. Owner-Authorized Handguns: A Workshop Summary, edited by L.A. Davis and G. Pearson. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. NIJ (National Institute of Justice). 1993. Gun acquisition and possession in selected juvenile samples, edited by J.F. Sheley and J.D. Wright. Research in Brief, NCJ-145326. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). 2001. Personalized Weapons Technology Project: Progress Report with Findings and Recommendations, Vols. 1 and 2. April 15, 2001. Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Institute of Technology. NJIT. 2003. New Jersey Institute of Technology moves ahead to get smart gun on market. Press release, September 5, 2003. Available online at: http://www.njit.edu/v2/News/Releases/395.html (April 20, 2005). NRC (National Research Council). 2003. Who Goes There?: Authentication Through the Lens of Privacy. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. NRC. 2005. Firearms and Violence—A Critical Review, edited by C.F. Wellford, J.V. Pepper, and C.V. Petrie. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. O’Gorman, L. 2003. Comparing passwords, tokens and biometrics for user authentication. Proceedings of the IEEE 91(12): 2019–2040. Roberts, P. 2005. RFID crack raises spectre of weak encryption. PC World, March 18, 2005. Available online at: http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/index.php/id;102583488;fp;512;fpid (April 22, 2005). SNL (Sandia National Laboratories). 1996. Smart Gun Technology Project Final Report, edited by D.R. Weiss. SAND-96-1131 Available from National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Va. NTIS Order Number: DE96013854.
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Technological Options for User-Authorised Handguns: A Technology-Readiness Assessment SNL. 2001. Smart Gun Technology Update, edited by J.W. Wirsbinski. SAND-2001-3499. Available from National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Va. NTIS Order Number: DE2001-789587. Steinhardt, B. 2004. Statement of Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program, on RFID tags before the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. July 14, 2004. Available online at: http://www.aclu.org/Privacy/Privacy.cfm?ID=16104&c=130 (April 25, 2005). Tartaro, J.P. 2005. Taurus withdraws from ‘smart gun’ partnership in NJ. Kansas Sportsmen’s Alliance. Available online at: http://www.theksa.com/News.htm#36. (March 17, 2005) TIM (Taurus International Manufacturing). 2003. Authorized user firearm partnership. Press release dated November 25, 2003. Miami, Fla.: Taurus International Manufacturing. Violence Policy Center. 2002. Firearms Production in America 2002 Edition. Appendix Four—Domestic Production of Civilian Firearms, 1899 to 2000 (In Thousands). Available online at: http://www.vpc.org/graphics/prod2002.pdf (February 9, 2005). Vyrostek, S.B, J.L. Annest, and G.W. Ryan. 2004. Surveillance for fatal and nonfatal injuries—United States, 2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 53(SS07): 1–57. Available online at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5307a1.htm (February 8, 2005).
Representative terms from entire chapter: