The idea of “smart guns” — firearms with technology to prevent unauthorized users from operating a weapon — sounds promising on paper, particularly with the recent string of kids shooting other kids with their parents and grandparents’ guns. But when that technology is actually 100-percent safe, commercialized by manufacturers, and embraced by consumers is up in the air.
That much was evident at the “Seattle Smart Gun Symposium” on Wednesday, where the Washington Technology Industry Association hosted founders of “smart gun” companies and other stakeholders to discuss the future of firearm technology.
“We don’t know how many lives we can eventually save with smart guns, but it’s clearly in the thousands,” said Ralph Fascitelli, director of a gun-control group called Washington CeaseFire. “We’re hoping this is an issue that most people on the gun rights side, and also those on the gun safety side, can eventually reach some agreement on.”
Mark Burles, VP of Seattle-based research firm PSB, noted that in a recent survey of 800 Americans, 40 percent of gun owners said they were willing to swap out their gun for a “smart gun” — particularly those in the 18-to-44 age range. However, 62 percent of gun owners said there shouldn’t be a mandate that all guns sold be “smart guns.”
“There’s a broad welcoming of smart gun technology among gun owners, but resistance and disagreement that there should be any kind of mandate,” Burles said.
So what kind of “smart gun” technology is out there today? Three entrepreneurs developing these technologies were at the event.
One was Robert McNamara, CEO of TriggerSmart, an Ireland-based startup that is using RFID technology to unlock guns and prevent children from accidentally firing a weapon. McNamara has come up with a prototype product but has yet to work with gun manufacturers, which is ultimately the goal for his company.
“Like a seatbelt makes us safer on the road, childproof guns will help make children safer in the home, in the car, and at Wal-Mart,” McNamara said.
Omer Kiyani, meanwhile, is CEO of Sentinl, which manufactures a small gun lock that requires a fingerprint to access the trigger. Kiyani, who was shot in the mouth as a child, said he’s trying to raise enough investment dollars to have his product to customers by the end of this year.
“We need a solution,” Kiyani said. “We just need something better than what’s available right now.”
Then there was Alan Boinus, CEO of Allied Biometrix, a Los Angeles-based company that’s commercializing “smart gun” technology developed by the New Jersey Institute of Technology that can recognize a particular person’s grip pattern profile and detect if an authorized user is handling a gun. Boinus stressed the difficulty his company is facing with pushing this technology to market.
“There are challenges beyond technology — challenges in legislation, challenges in the controversy,” he said. “We can’t afford what folks in the digital space can afford. We can’t afford a 404 error code. This is not something to monkey around with. This is a serious product and my company would rather be last to market and do it right, than to be first to market.”
The CEOs laid out a bevy of reasons for why smart guns are a good idea. But the new technology can also bring about problems — for example, what if you’re relying on your weapon in a certain situation, and the RFID tag or biometric authentication malfunctions?
One reporter had a simple question for the three entrepreneurs: Why should gun owners trust that this technology will ever work?
“They shouldn’t trust that it will work now,” Boinus said. “We need independent arbitrators to say, ‘look, this meets a reliability measurement that is acceptable to gun owners.'”