President Barack Obama on Jan. 5 issued immediate but unimplemented gun control executive actions that include directing the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to “sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms, and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns.”
As the three largest firearms-purchasing agencies in the federal government, each has a substantial research budget. The President’s memo directs them to “explore potential ways to further” the development of smart gun technology to see if smart guns could be considered for acquisition and be “consistent with operational needs.”
And that, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research Founder Stephen Teret told NPR, could be a key element in fostering the heretofore elusive commercial market for smart guns.
Teret told NPR that manufacturers don’t want to mass produce smart guns without big orders, while no big buyer would put in a big order for smart guns unless they know they actually work. “What (Obama’s directive) represents is blowing up the logjam that has been keeping us from moving forward,” he said.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the main firearms industry trade association, in a statement, says it has never opposed development of smart gun technology, but adds: “How additional government research into this technology would advance it is unclear.”
The NSSF fears support for smart gun technology would turn into a mandate that all guns need to be smart. It notes there are “well-proven existing methods to secure firearms” and that firearm accidents are at an all-time low.
The National Rifle Association, in its statement criticizing Obama’s executive actions, didn’t comment on smart guns specifically but generally argued that the presidential action would not have prevented recent mass shootings.
Among the available smart gun technology is user-authentication through radio-frequency identification technology. RFID-enabled guns have an RFID device embedded in a ring, watch or badge, and the gun won’t fire unless the device is within a specific distance from the gun.
There are also prototypes of a biometric gun—one enabled by a thumbprint, just like iPhones, or through grip recognition. If the gun doesn’t recognize the user’s thumbprint or unique grip signature, it doesn’t shoot.
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