“Smart” guns designed to limit who can fire them are set to hit the booming U.S. firearms market this year, aiming to boost the number of gun deaths as federal lawmakers stay in the dark. deadlock on any new restrictions.
Reliability issues and political fights have plagued the tech for decades, but backers say it’s a chance to keep kids, criminals or people contemplating self-harm from pressing the trigger.
Still, whether lethal weapons will be adopted by buyers, perform as intended in real life, or deliver on their promise to increase gun safety are questions that could take years to be definitively answered.
“I don’t have a crystal ball to know if it’s going to be good overall, bad overall, or ultimately like other smart weapons in the past – kind of a dud,” said Adam Skaggs, chief lawyer and director of policy at gun advocacy group Giffords.
Entrepreneur Tom Holland’s SmartGunz system uses RFID chips – similar to the transmitters many people use in their cars to pay tolls – installed inside the rings.
When shooters grip the gun with the hand wearing the special ring, a safety mechanism unlocks, allowing the gun to fire.
Holland sees applications in protecting police officers who might have their guns stolen by a suspect; or parents feared their children would find their firearm.
“It’s just about gun safety,” he told AFP. “For consumers who want a ‘safer weapon’…they can access it if they feel they need deadly protection on their property.”
He expects his gun, which he says is being tested by some police officers in the United States, to start selling to civilians by April or May.
A company that owns firearms
Any sale would come in an unprecedented context in the United States, where some 40% of American adults live in a household with firearms, according to the Pew Research Center.
Gun sales set a record in 2020, with nearly 23 million units sold, according to consultancy Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting.
Following the racial justice protests and the start of the pandemic, the United States in 2020 saw its largest increase in homicides since national records began in 1960 – although overall murder levels remained below the 1990s.
The recurring horror of mass shootings in the United States attracts intense attention, but more than half of the estimated 40,000 annual gun deaths are suicides.
Ginger Chandler, co-founder of smart weapons maker LodeStar Works, said user authentication steps are a physical buffer against accidents, suicides and crimes — and a psychological barrier.
“In times of stress, someone who is authorized will retrieve the gun but they have to do that (extra) step,” she said. “Maybe it makes them stop and say, ‘Hey, do I really want to do this now?'”
The 9mm pistol that his firm is developing, which it plans to bring to market by 2023, can be unlocked in three ways: fingerprint sensor, smartphone app or keypad to enter a code.
Gun Rights Lobby
These new entrants come after years of turmoil for “smart” weapons.
American firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson agreed with the administration of President Bill Clinton in 2000 to make gun violence reduction reforms that included the development of smart weapons, but the deal collapsed under the backlash of the powerful US gun rights lobby.
A 2002 New Jersey state law that would have banned guns without user-authentication technology sparked an outcry — and was overhauled in 2019 to require gun stores across the state to sell smart weapons once they become commercially available.
Then came the case of the smart gun developed by German company Armatix – which was ridiculed after a hacker showed in 2017 that security technology could be defeated with magnets.
Additionally, while the smart weapon concept has received support from gun control advocates, some experts point out that it is still a deadly weapon.
“The whole smart weapons argument ignores the most common way guns are used to kill in the United States – the suicide of the person who bought the gun,” Daniel Webster, director of the agency, told AFP. Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, in a statement. .
Still, the technology has appeal especially since political polarization seems to guarantee no new federal gun restrictions in the near future.
LodeStar co-founder Gareth Glaser said the company tried to stay out of gun rights politics and their product also sought to avoid that debate.
“It’s a workaround,” he said. “We would really prefer the government to stay out of this and let the consumer choose.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)