By Congressman John F. Tierney and John Rosenthal
"The biggest threat to children's safety regarding guns... are the guns found around their homes," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, during our recent event on gun violence prevention. No one knows this better than Ann Marie Crowell, whose son Brian was killed by a legally purchased and licensed gun. On Christmas Eve in 1997, Brian Crowell, then 12 years old, was at his best friend's house when his friend began showing off his mother's gun, pulling the trigger thinking it was unloaded. Tragically, on the third pull of the trigger, the gun fired and shot Brian in the neck. As Mrs. Crowell said in the Boston Globe, "My son would be 28 right now. Our lives have changed forever, and we don't want anyone else to go through what we've gone through as parents having to bury a child."
Sadly, this is just one example of the more than 800 accidental, and in many cases avoidable, firearm deaths that happen each year. In the last month alone, a 3-year-old boy from Ohio accidentally shot himself after finding his father's loaded gun in a bedroom; a 4-year old from New Jersey was shot by her 6-year-old playmate; and a sheriff's wife from Tennessee was killed by her 4-year-old nephew. These cases -- and the dozens and dozens of others just like them that occur every month in our country -- are tragic and entirely preventable.
We argue that not only must our national gun laws be strengthened to require background checks for all gun sales and to stop the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-style assault weapons, among other things, but the guns themselves can and must be made safer by equipping them with personalization technology.
Personalized guns, or "smart guns" as they are sometimes called, allow the purchaser of a gun to designate authorized users who can operate the gun and render the gun inoperable for all others -- particularly children, teenagers and criminals. We strongly believe this technology presents a modern solution to the persistent epidemic of gun violence that is in the interest of, and should be embraced by, all gun owners and gun safety advocates alike.
The idea for this technology is not new. In the wake of several incidents of gun violence in the late 1990s, then-President Clinton initiated grants to develop such personalized gun technology. The largest beneficiaries of those grants were gun manufacturers, such as Massachusetts-based Smith and Wesson, the largest handgun maker in America, who developed the technology and consequently shelved it as a result of gun lobbyist pressure. With more than 30,000 Americans killed by guns each year and approximately 87 killed every day, think of all the lives and never-ending grief that could have been saved in the last 10 years if this common sense and readily available technology was brought to market in the United States.
Fortunately, global entrepreneurs have continued to support and develop this technology, knowing of its potential to result in safer firearms and save lives. Personalized handguns are currently being sold overseas and several manufacturers are expected to bring this technology to American markets this summer. That's why we are committed to pressing for action, supporting efforts to make this technology a part of daily life, not just a scene in a James Bond movie. With Congressman Tierney introducing the Personalized Handgun Safety Act and advocacy group Stop Handgun Violence educating and fighting for change, we hope to see all newly manufactured handguns be personalized within two years.
Requiring the implementation of this technology in the United States will allow responsible gun owners to lawfully purchase guns while simultaneously protecting our children from easily preventable accidents and suicides and our communities from gun crimes especially with stolen guns.
According to the Children's Defense Fund, eight children die every day as a result of gun violence. If we can stop even one of those children from dying and those families from mourning such a devastating loss, we believe we need to try. Congress should immediately act on the Personalized Handgun Safety Act.
Congressman John Tierney, author of the Personalized Handgun Safety Act, represents the 6th Congressional District of Massachusetts. A longtime supporter of gun violence prevention efforts, you can follow him on Twitter at @RepTierney for updates from Congress on these critical issues.
John Rosenthal is a gun owner and Co-Founder of Stop Handgun Violence, Common Sense About Kids and Guns and American Hunters and Shooters Association.