The Lawgiver is a handgun featuring semi- and fully-automatic fire, manual and automatic focusing and targeting, plus an in-built computer capable of controlling its operation. It fires a range of speciality ammunition. An in-line gunsight shows the view directly down the barrel. A Lawgiver can only be operated by its designated Judge owner, whose palm print is programmed into the gun's memory.
Its appearance was altered dramatically in 1995, around the release of the Judge Dredd film. Originally depicted as sleek and silver, it was modified to look blockier and black (see right).
Should an attempt be made by an unauthorized person to use the Lawgiver, it will explode in that person's hand. Recognizing that this generally practical safeguard can sometimes impede Judges in the execution of their duties, the Justice Department computers contain instructions on bypassing Lawgiver palm-recognition systems. These instructions can be accessed by senior Judges, but are generally employed only in severe emergencies.
In the story "The Narcos Connection", criminal Nero Narcos sabotaged a new batch of upgraded lawgivers by programming them to self-destruct when used by their authorized users (once they received a radio signal, so the rogue command took effect in all weapons simultaneously). This resulted in large numbers of judges being crippled or killed at the precise moment they were attacked by Narcos's "Assassinator" robots at the beginning of the Second Robot War in 2121.
The gun has a maximum range of up to three miles and has six distinct settings which can be engaged by voice command:
Some stories by Judge Dredd creator John Wagner have added a stun bullet, while stories by Gordon Rennie have included a stunner beam (which doesn't always work). An "exorcist" bullet for use against supernatural enemies was developed by Gordon Rennie. These and the six modes of fire listed above are canon. The Judge Dredd audio drama Wanted: Dredd Or Alive has a Tracer bullet, which allows Judges to electronically track what they've shot.
Some publications replace the standard bullet with the Grenade setting. In addition, the novelizations of David Bishop replaced the Incendiary round with a Gas round, which released a cloud of Stumm gas, the Mega City equivalent of CS or tear gas.
In the film Judge Dredd the "Lawgiver Mark II" handgun is visually different but still capable of firing several types of ammunition, including standard bullets, rapid fire (all types of ammo), explosive grenade rounds, the "double-whammy" (twin rounds fired simultaneously in different directions) and signal flares.
Each individual round fired is tagged with the DNA code of the Judge to whom the weapon belongs, thus making identification of the shooter possible with the recovery of the slugs from a victim.
Instead of exploding when an individual other than a judge picks up the weapon it emits a very powerful, incapacitating (and often deadly) shock until the weapon is dropped.