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Smart guns are firearms equipped with technology that enables them to only be fired by an authorized user. Smart guns have the potential to prevent injuries and deaths, including those due to unintentional shootings, suicides, and gun thefts. These personalized firearms can be enabled by several technologies.
The biometric – a fingerprint-access technology widely used in smartphones and other security devices. Fingerprint scanners can prevent unauthorized users from firing a gun while keeping access for gun owners quick and easy. When an authorized user accesses the gun’s fingerprint scanner, the scanner checks the print against its internal database, authenticating the user within a fraction of a second.
Another technology is Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), known for decades for locking cars or accessing buildings. RFID uses radio waves to read and capture information stored on a token linked to an object, like a ring or watch. In most RFID firearms designs, the token can unlock the trigger within a few inches of the firearm. When not in close proximity to the token, the gun stays completely secure in order to prevent others — especially children — from accidentally firing it.
These solutions can either be built into guns during manufacturing or retrofitted onto some of them, according to smarttechfoundation.org.
Smart guns advocates hope ID technology could make guns harder for them to steal and harder for children to access. However, traditional gun manufacturers and the groups that represent gun owners and manufacturers, have always opposed them.
The NSSF (US National Shooting Sports Foundation) itself isn’t opposed to the technology per se, but to mandates of it. The industry opposition also makes finding investors harder for smart gun startups.
According to forbes.com, there are several reasons for the opposition to smart gun technology. First, guns may be less reliable with chip or other technology. In the gun community, where the belief in the singular defensive power of guns is common, a higher risk of a gun failing means a higher risk of dying in a confrontation.
“The firearms made by our member companies are designed to perform in austere and less-than-ideal conditions when lives are literally at stake,” wrote the NSSF spokesman. “To date, authorized-user technology developments have only introduced points of failure that could put the lives of lawful and authorized users at risk when they need those firearms to preserve lives.”
Jonathan Mossberg, the founder of the startup iGun told forbes.com that their gun already passes military specification testing, including “a 3,000 round torture test including freezing and dropping.” “We have already built a personalized firearm that is more reliable than most commercial firearms available”.
Based on conversations with companies and engineers developing military weapons with chip technology, reliability is a valid worry – but it’s an existing worry for every gun. Weapons without chips or ID technology fail too.
Another factor is product liability. “If a manufacturer were to overcome the significant technological challenges inherent in developing a safe and equally reliable firearm incorporating “authorized user recognition” technology, would they be exposing themselves to product liability lawsuits alleging that all their other products that do not incorporate this technology are somehow “defectively designed,” or that their previously manufactured products are also “defectively designed” because they did not incorporate this feature soon enough?” wrote the NSSF in a fact sheet about the technology.
The NSSF surveyed its members and found that 14% would be likely to buy a smart gun. In 2015, Penn Shoen Berland found 40% of Americans would consider swapping their current gun for a smart gun. The underlying data in the latter study suggests older gun owners are less likely to be interested in smart guns.