Smart Guns Are Here, But No One Wants To Buy Them

Smart Guns Are Here, But No One Wants To Buy Them

Smart guns got a publicity boost in January, when President Obama advocated their potential as part of his emotional speech in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shooting, and the San Francisco Smart Gun Symposium aimed to capitalise on that.

It assembled some big names for its press conference: like San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, gun violence and public health expert Stephen Teret, and Silicon Valley angel investor/lightning rod Ron Conway. Conway's investments read like a who's who of Silicon Valley, but it's his passion for gun control (he's on the board for Sandy Hook Promise) that brought him to the press conference. Unfortunately the press conference was big on names and low on results.

It mostly boiled down to: smart guns are coming. Eventually. Probably. And no one wants to buy them.

Conway used the opportunity to introduce developers funded by his Smart Tech Challenges Foundation -- an NPO developed to promote gun safety. Of particular note was 18-year-old Kai Kloepfer, who was presented by Conway as "the Mark Zuckerburg of smart guns." Kloepfer presumably earned the totally cool and not at all bizarre name due to his being young and tech savvy, but the fingerprint scanner he's incorporated into a gun doesn't really scream Facebook.

Smart guns are weapons that utilise technology (like Kloepfer's fingerprint scanner) to prevent an unauthorised user from firing them. At the press conference, "personalised guns" and "childproof guns" were also used to describe them.

Smart handguns make sense in certain scenarios. If someone with small children wanted to keep a gun in his or her home, and maybe didn't keep that gun locked up properly, and the gun got into the wrong tiny hands ... it wouldn't be able to accidentally, tragically, go off. According to a handout from Washington CeaseFire, one of the organisers of the symposium, the Brady Campaign approximates that 1.7 million American children live in homes where there are unlocked, loaded guns.

There's also the issue of stolen guns being used in violent crimes, and of suicides being committed by people who've somehow obtained a weapon that doesn't belong to them. "Guns won't go away, and we're going to have to deal with that reality," noted Washington CeaseFire's Ralph Fascitelli.

While Kloepfer and the other developers toil away on the technology, smart gun proponents are focusing on an issue greater than any inventor's challenge: who is going to buy these things?

The current push is to put the technology into a handgun. It makes sense, handguns are a major chunk of gun sales, but according to symposium participant Jonathan E. Mossberg, creator of the "iGun" shotgun (which he said works just fine) there's "no market" for their smarter cousins. And Ernst Mauch, who developed the Armatix iP1, said he didn't know how well his own product was selling.

So much of the press conference was consumed by more practical questions:

  • When will more smart guns actually hit the market? The research and development phase will take at least another two years, so not anytime soon.
  • Why not pour resources into creating an accessory that could turn any gun into a smart gun? Smart Tech Challenges Foundation director, Margot Hirsch, noted that the group is facilitating research in that direction, but inventors like Mossberg maintain that if owners are modifying their own guns to make them smart, their reliability could be compromised.

They also discussed Mauch's iP1 pistol. It's one of the few smart guns currently available on the market, but it's only active when it's connected to the company's "Smart System" radio-controlled watch.

The watch element was a major sticking point. It could, presumably, be used by someone who wasn't the gun owner to make the gun fire. That's why the iP1 didn't meet the standards of what NPR calls an "obscure" New Jersey law, passed in 2002. It's simple, but obviously controversial:

Once "personalised handguns are available" anywhere in the country, all handguns sold in New Jersey must be smart guns within 30 months.

The law itself has been making gun control activists more than slightly nervous. Though the press conference, which was obviously extremely pro-smart guns, didn't dig too deep into that part of the issue, it's a big part of why gun enthusiasts, the National Rifle Association among them, are suspicious of the smart-gun cause.

Within this optimistically pro-smart gun environment, SFPD Chief Suhr chose his words carefully when asked if he'd support a smart gun pilot program on the force. He pointed out that San Francisco had four murders committed using stolen guns in 2015 -- including the headline-grabbing random shooting of Kate Steinle, who was killed by a gun taken from the car of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger. But he also noted that he wasn't against offering the option to his officers, if they wanted to participate. "We have so many officers who are into technology, I am all but certain there are officers that would be willing to do such a pilot, provided that we could all share magazines."

"There is no quick fix," Smart Tech Challenges Foundation director Hirsch said, and she's right. Even if flawless, 100 per cent reliable smart-gun technology is ever achieved and is way more effective than, say, the iPhone thumb print ID, which is not something anyone would want to rely on in a life-or-death situation -- there will still be plenty of human hurdles to cross.

Like who the hell will buy the damn things.



    As much as I support banning guns, I honestly don't really see the point of a smart gun with a potentially unreliable fingerprint scanner for self defense. You have wet/sweaty/bloody hands? Bzzt, unauthorised. Your hands cut? Bzzt unauthorised. Or if the battery is flat? Seems like a stupid solution.

      ^ This. Or you took the watch off to go to sleep or something. It's inelegant.
      I'd be interested to see if there are any sort of numbers to back the need/demand (stolen guns in crime vs legit owned guns, home accidents etc)

      As for after-market modification, I'm not sure anyone would invest the money. If the aim is to protect accidental discharge or theft/misuse there are already tried and tested methods. Like safekeeping.

        If you want to prevent accidental discharge, don't keep firearms loaded. You should only load a weapon when you are ready to use it. Leaving a loaded weapon anywhere, even in a safe, is just stupid.

          ....which would make it pretty useless for self defence. Especially if you own a revolver...or a musket.... I agree that owning guns for self defence is stupid and basically unviable anyway - per Jim Jeffries gun control rant. But even an unloaded weapon will still be dangerous....if you have an automatic hand gun that's not loaded and the clip sitting next to it on your bedside table. I think the real solution is to ban all guns, legalise marijuana, and start preaching peace and love.

      Guns for self defence are a pretty stupid solution as it is. Any kind of attack is generally pretty sudden and doesn't allow for retrieving it, ensuring it's loaded, switching off the safety, chambering a bullet etc. Never mind the fact that most of the time the attacker has the element of surprise or is at least one step ahead of you in terms of knowing what the hell is going on. I've always been of the opinion if you actually want to protect your family, invest in good locks and actually lock them, an intruder alarm or a dog (our mastiff is up at even the slightest movement outside) and something under the bed to defend yourself with quickly (ie a club of some sort). People that rely on a gun for protection, wish they were a cowboy.

    Price? A new Glock 9mm off the shelf will set you back $500. That .22L caliber iP1 will set you back $1,400 -- and it will be totally useless until you fork over another $400 for the required matching watch.

    The New Jersey law is just the beginning. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) submitted a bill (S.1474) that would (1) Require every handgun manufactured in the US to be a Smart Guns®, five years after the bill is passed. (2) Force gun manufacturers to retrofit existing weapons for free, upon request of the owner! (3) Require every handgun sold "in commerce" be a Smart Guns® 10 years after passage of the bill. This includes second-hand weapons. (4) Exempts weapons sold to the Department of Defense, but not Law Enforcement. And they weren't alone; the House version (H.R.2613) came from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY).

    For educational purposes, search the great YouTube god for two things, and put them together. (1) The "Tueller drill" - how to respond in a defensive situation. (2) "Armatix iP1" and observe them imputing the 6-digit code using a 4-button watch interface. While watching #2, imagine you're the victim in video #1. Suddenly, it's not such a "smart gun!"

      Imagine not living in a country were peoples first second and third instincts are to reach for their gun, or to even be in a situation where you need to reach for a gun

        Yes... Let imagine it for a while... I think we'll call the magical country Australia...

          What gets me is that stats dont always tell the story, but they so blazingly do with the US and guns.

          If you look at Canada for example, they have roughly a quarter of the guns, and roughly a fifth of the gun related deaths, so it scales fairly close. Australia has a fifth of the guns, and a tenth of the gun related deaths, so doesnt get close to scaling.

          For reference, in 2014 US had 112 guns per 100 population, Canada 30.8, Australia 21.7 and deaths were 10.5 per 100k in US, roughly 2 for Canada, and 0.9 for Australia.

          Any way you cut it, the US has a gun problem. They just cant see it.

            Australia has a fifth of the guns, and a tenth of the gun related deaths, so doesnt get close to scaling
            Not sure on those numbers, but I do recall that the number of deaths from registered, legally owned firearms in Austrlaia is virtually nil. Most of the drive-bys, gangland killings, etc are typically from unregistered-thus illgelaly owned firearms. The laws on ownership and registration vary so much in the US it's next to impossible to quantify deaths from illegal firearms.

              Just going off loose Wiki entries dated a couple of years ago. Not solid by any stretch, but a basis of comparison. 21 guns per 100 people versus 112 per 100, and 2deaths per 100k population versus 10 per 100k.

              There are also other factors (like urban v rural), but that happens everywhere including the US. You take their 3 biggest regions for gun deaths out of it (cant remember, but its something like Chicago, LA, and... nup, lost it) then their deaths per 100k dramatically noticably. But its still going to be high because of the cultural urge to own a gun. 112 guns per 100 people is just so unfathomable. Next worst country was 60-something.

              Was mostly pointing out that they are such a standout environment for this that none of the arguments they put forwards make sense, even taking various factors into account. Canada has good reason to own guns for example, given the wilderness issues that makes up most of the country.

            The Americans are so blind, by their stupid constitution to bear the right to have a gun... That they will never see it, as a problem. Yes, I agree the US has a gun problem and a huge one.

            President Obama tried and still failing to put a control on the gun violence. But all those gun fanatics will always be against it.

            They want to see more people carrying guns and killing people, than actually trying to help resolve the situation. In a sense, they are partly to blame, for not wanting to promote a safe environment.

          That place is crazy!
          They've got Drop bears and Piss fish. Typical Aussie rides a kangaroo to work!
          Lets' not forget that anything that moves in the outback is bound to be deadly.

            And still a majority of us don't feel the need to even own a gun, snakes and spiders are pretty tough to shoot at, small target ect, you are better off with a Croc Dundee style bowie knife :P

        Yeah let's follow the UK and just use knives

    NFC chip in the hand/wrist. Correct hand uses correct gun and it works. Simple. Don't want a tiny implant, you don't get a gun. hahaha
    Trial it with the police I suppose, they're probably the most likely to have their weapon taken and used against them, so a perfect test case.

    Also, unrelated, how do I file a patent?

    Ameeicans dont even keep their weapons locked in a gun safe... they areso careless with their guns they just throw them in a bag or in the back of the care abd thenact surprised their dog or toddler shot them. SMART guns wont help DUMB gun owners

    Just an off the wall idea here, but what if you had to have a microchip in your wrist, that will activate the weapon only in your gun hand? Cops and security people in particular, would benefit and no silly watch app. Extrapolate that out further and make it law that if you were buying a gun you had to have the chip first. Microchip in the arm is already a thing that has been done.

      Or more basic, the gun won't cock unless the hand piece is squeezed and when it's released it empties the chamber (you could also add a second layer by making the safety auto on, i.e. if you have to squeeze, cock, then flick the safety).

        Hmmm, seems like it would be fairly onerous if you were Cop in a gun fight, but hell it's better than that silly bloody watch thing.

        Last edited 15/03/16 12:08 pm

          Whats more dangerous, a second or two more to ready... or someone grabbing the gun from your side and shooting you before you have time to react. Most of the time a cop has drawn the gun long before they shoot (i.e. they have drawn and are shouting at you to stop) so I'd suggest it wouldn't effect them at all, time wise.

        There are a number of different dafety mechanisms on pistols, often combined, but rarely legsilated requirements.
        - Manual safety
        - grip-safety (squeeze)
        - thumb safety (hold down)
        - trigger weight (how heavy the pull is)

        Hmmm, seems like it would be fairly onerous if you were Cop in a gun fight,
        Police issues glock 22s have a safety switch and trigger, with a minimum trigger weight that's set prettyy high too.
        Something like a grip safety really ony or thumb safety are designed to workin concert with good grip and positioning - limiting the chances of someone untrained beig able to do it properly.
        But then some law enforcement agencies remove all safety mehcanisms to make sure draw-gun-go-boom

        Last edited 15/03/16 2:46 pm

          Or grab gun-go boom-draw. Shot self!

        So a single action handgun.

        Last edited 15/03/16 2:58 pm

    Just thought of an amazing new technology that could be used in conjunction with a gun to increase gun safety tenfold. And it is called.... (pause for dramatic effect)....

    A padlock.

    Simply place this "smart" lock in a drawer or cabinet with a lockable hinge, and boom! No unauthorised access by children!

    Call me the next Zuckerberg if you want.

    Ill take my billions now please. Ill call my first child South-West.

    Or better yet just dont let every person and their dog have guns. So far civillians have provided minimal personal safety and maximum personal and bystander harm. I dont understand the requirement to have every person carry a weapon on them in interest of "personal safety". Even people with multitudes of experience in gun knowledge manage to do stupid things with guns.

    at the risk of offending sensibilities ... 'smart gun' and American gun owners is like trying to push two - string - south pole magnets together

    Lots of negativity towards this but I give them props for having a go at gun safety and trying to find that illusive balance.
    Im a long time shooter and like any other shooter in Australia we have to pass vigorous testing to ensure we are suitable for guns.
    As per the large majority of cases, its not the legal gun owners at fault, its the illegal gun owners which we need to band together to stop, I dont believe in blanket laws and if we didnt have guns on the farm most of our livestock would be dead due to wild dogs.
    GJ Armatix, keep at it. you will crack it eventually

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now