Smart guns, meaning guns that use technology to prevent unauthorized users from firing them, are finally coming to market later this year. For proponents, such weapons have promised a viable solution to accidental gun deaths and unauthorized use of law enforcement guns by criminals. Conversely, gun ownership advocates point to the potential for criminal hacking, overly technical smart gun failure that could occur in a split-second self-defense situation, or even legal issues that they feel will infringe on traditional gun ownership rights.
BACKGROUND: ARE SMART GUNS A SMART IDEA?
As far back as 1999, companies like Smith & Wesson were talking about creating a type of gun that could only be fired by authorized users. Such weapons have made their way into movies and TV shows, but over 20 years later, so called “smart guns” have yet to successfully breach the commercial marketplace.
In 2014, German company Armatix tried, but their .22 caliber smart gun was almost instantly hacked, leading to its removal from the firearms maker’s catalogue. In that case, hackers were able to disrupt the weapon’s verifying radio frequency identification (RFID) signal to prevent firing by an authorized user, while also showing how strong magnets could trick the gun into allowing an unauthorized user to fire it.
Now, a pair of gun manufacturers are taking another swing at selling smart guns, with two smart gun models expected to hit shelves later this year.
ANALYSIS: SMART GUNS REIGNITING PREVIOUS CHEERS AND FEARS
According to a recent report from Reuters, “four-year-old LodeStar Works on Friday unveiled its 9mm smart handgun for shareholders and investors in Boise, Idaho. And a Kansas company, SmartGunz LLC, says law enforcement agents are beta testing its product, a similar but simpler model.”
“Both companies hope to have a product commercially available this year,” the same story said.
Also, according to Reuters, the founder of LodeStar, Gareth Glaser (whose product is expected to go for $895 retail) said this move into the smart gun marketplace came from hearing too many stories about children who were shot while playing with “unattended handguns.” This point is one regularly made by advocates for smart guns, who also note that such weapons would cut down on suicides, assist police and prison guards who may be victims of gun grabs, and essentially render lost or stolen guns useless.
Those who oppose smart guns or are at least concerned about their entrance into the commercial marketplace, point to reliability issues around such weapons especially in life-or-death situations, their proven hack-ability, and the possibility that smart guns may be a way for gun advocates to challenge ownership of traditional weapons that don’t offer these same safety measures. For instance, a New Jersey law passed in 2019 basically says that once smart guns are widely available, selling older style guns will no longer be permitted in the state.
“The other side tipped their hand because they used smart guns to ban everything that’s not a smart gun,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs in the Reuters piece. “It woke gun owners up.”
As to how the guns actually work, three primary methods are typically employed.
The first is a keypad that allows for the entry of a PIN, the second is a fingerprint reader built into the gun’ itself, and the third involves a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip worn by the gun’s owner that connects with the gun to make it operable. All three have their plusses and minuses, and some of the guns being tested include more than one of these technologies on the same model.
OUTLOOK: GUNS, GUNS, GUNS!
While neither company would commit to a specific release date for their guns, SmartGunz did say that their RFID secured weapon is currently being tested by some unnamed law enforcement agencies. The company also confirmed that once available, the law enforcement model of their gun will cost $1,795, while the public model will sell for $2,195.
In the end, it appears that the American marketplace and its legal system will be forced to deal with this whole new type of weapon very soon, whether one is in favor of this technology and its purported benefits, or whether one is concerned about an erosion of gun rights as well as an inferior, hackable product. Like with sensible gun ownership, let us hope that cooler heads prevail.
Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction