After a brief hiatus within the news cycle, smart guns are once more making their way into the headlines.
There’s plenty of support from gun safety advocates, who see smart guns as the cure-all to “gun violence.”
Alternatively, there’s a lot of opposition from the gun community who see these devices as a backdoor to greater gun control.
Efforts from legislators to mandate smart gun technology haven’t proved successful but could they down the road? What’s keeping smart guns off the shelves of American gun shops at the moment?
For the informed gun owner, it’s well worth taking the time to learn about smart guns and see what this likely means in the future.
With that said, let’s explore smart gun technology and the legislative attempts propelling them.
Table of Contents
Smart Guns: State of the Art?
Technology is a rapidly changing field.
But the handgrip recognition technology on James Bond’s Walther PPK in Skyfall is still at least a few years away.
Most smart gun technology isn’t quite ready for showtime, but many companies are working on designs that could evolve into full-scale working models in the future.
To start, research is being performed on “ethical AI” and how it could be incorporated into smart guns.
This technology would theoretically “predict” the intentions of a gun owner, causing the gun to shut down and refuse to fire should the AI deem the shooter to be a potential criminal.
Some companies are exploring the concept of RFID-enabled handguns that would need a corresponding signal (original to the owner) to fire properly.
The oldest of these would be the Armatix iP1, which requires the owner to wear an RFID watch to work.
The weapon will not fire if the wristband is more than 10-inches away from the handgun.
Designed by gunmaker Ernst Mauch, the Armatix iP1 is the only commercially available personalized handgun.
Except there’s a catch.
If you can find a store that sells it, this smart gun retails for about $1,800 — $1,400 for the gun, and another $400 for the watch — an astronomical price compared to most other .22 LR caliber pistols.
Even more disturbing than the price tag is just how badly made the pistol is…
The iP1 allegedly was one of the worst .22 LR handgun designs in existence. (But, you can see the best .22 LR handguns here!)
A review of the iP1 by the NRA magazine America’s 1st Freedom concluded that it’s probably one of the worst pistols in its caliber — ever.
Some of the reviewers’ issues with the iP1:
- It takes 20 minutes to pair the gun with the watch.
- 3 to 4 misfires per 10-round magazine were common.
- The double-action trigger requires more than 25-pounds of pull.
- The recessed hammer prevents shooters from thumbing forward.
- Red means “safe,” and green means “hot,” the exact opposite of firearms safety conventions.
Of course, the reviewers were most concerned by the Armatix iP1’s “kill switch” functionality, which allows the gun to be completely disabled and made into a very expensive paperweight from a distance.
Who has access to the kill switch?
Just the manufacturers, but they could be forced to hand that over to the government, and hackers could come up with ways to shut off the weapon remotely.
Among the reviewers’ other unanswered questions:
- What happens when the batteries fail?
- How many rounds can you shoot before damaging the sensitive electronics inside the gun?
- How easy is it to hack the RFID connection between the watch and the gun?
In 2021, Kansas-based SmartGunz revealed the Sentry 9mm pistol, announcing it would be released to the U.S. in the second quarter of 2021.
It too utilizes RFID, with the shooter wearing a specific chip-enabled glove to fire the weapon.
The manufacturers state that you need to ensure you order a glove for the correct shooting hand. Current list price is $2,495.
Other companies such as Lodestar and Machine Inc. are looking at allowing smartphones to sync with smart guns. The owner would then need to unlock their gun with their phone for it to be workable.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology has been working on a slightly different approach with their desire to “personalize” a gun to its owner by recognizing the grip pattern.
Should you grip the gun in a manner that the software does not recognize, you’ll no longer have a functioning weapon in your hands.
Ireland’s TriggerSmart rapidly gained ground within the political world as well.
This technology utilizes a chip to function and will not allow a gun to fire unless it is within 1-centimeter of the gun’s sensor.
A specialized ring can be worn to engage the sensor, and the whole system is powered by a rechargeable battery that can hold up for about a week.
TriggerSmart can also be disabled remotely through a feature referred to as Wide Area Control.
This would permit airports, schools, and other locations to disarm all smart guns within their vicinity.
Fingerprint technology has also been floated as a possible means of smart gun creation, though Phil Watson – founder of Washington Public Relations – astutely pointed out some of its inherent flaws.
He said, “If the smart technology uses fingerprints, will there be a requirement for registration, even de facto registration on some sort of technology database?”
“If smart technology uses RFID technology, where will the chip be placed? On a ring or wristwatch? Well, that would mean the gun could be used by anyone in possession of the ring or wristwatch.”
Smart Guns Legislation
New Jersey seems to be the hotbed for how the nation might tackle smart gun technology.
It was in 2002 that New Jersey passed the Childproof Handgun Bill.
This bill made it so that as soon as a smart gun is released to the American public, within three years, all handguns sold within New Jersey must be smart guns.
Later, the state said once the very first smart gun comes to market anywhere within the U.S., gun stores had a 60-day timer to stock at least one smart gun in New Jersey stores.
If stores sold out, they would have 21 days to order a new product. If they failed to do so, they would be fined.
New Jersey later backpedaled in 2019, saying gun store owners only had to stock smart guns once they meet “performance standards.”
What those standards are will be up to the seven people on the Personalized Handgun Authorization Commission.
Then in 2020, U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced HR 1008, also known as The Handgun Trigger Safety Act.
This bill would mandate every new handgun sold in the United States be equipped with the smart gun tech within five years.
HR 1008 also requires all handguns sold within America to be retrofitted with smart gun tech within 10 years.
Failure to do so would entail steep penalties. HR 1008 has yet to be approved.
President Biden & Smart Guns
Perhaps more than any other factor, President Biden’s residence within the White House might change how smart guns are approached in the future.
For years President Biden served as a proponent of smart gun technology.
On January 9, 2013, in reference to the Sandy Hook shooting, he said: “…a lot could change if, for example, every gun purchased could only be fired by the person who purchased it….”
“That technology exists, but it’s extremely expensive. But if that were available with every weapon sold, there’s significant evidence that…may very well curtail what happened up in Connecticut. Because had the young man not had access to his mother’s arsenal, he may or may not have did what he did.”
As recent as his 2020 campaign, President Biden said America was experiencing a “public health epidemic” in the form of gun violence. And thus, he felt committed to ensuring the U.S. was “on the path to ensuring that 100% of firearms sold in America are smart guns.”
Learn more about President Biden targeting braces and 80% kits with executive actions.
Can Smart Guns Beat the Statistics?
The pitch for smart guns is pretty straightforward — kids getting their parents’ guns and hurting themselves or others; criminals stealing guns from cops and private citizens; and “preventable deaths,” at least according to the promoters of smart gun technology.
How many of those deaths could smart guns really prevent?
The vast majority of gun-related deaths and injuries occur when guns are in the rightful owners’ hands. (Gun safety, folks, it’s important.)
Let’s also not forget that technology can fail.
Dry fingers, cold hands, blood, dirt, dust, grime, gloves, and fingerprint residue can all prevent fingerprint-equipped sensors from working.
What can be said for self-defense situations? Is it worth the risk?
As for tech that relies on chips or special accessories, what happens when those items get lost or stolen?
Basically, there are a host of potential issues that haven’t gotten worked out.
The argument for smart guns usually comes down to safety. While we disagree on how to accomplish that, plenty of American gun owners are rightfully concerned about safety as well.
Keeping guns in close proximity to unsupervised children is dangerous.
But using best practices — keeping guns locked or unloaded and out of reach of children’s hands – we can circumvent the need for smart guns, at least for now.
Do you have thoughts or comments on the subject? Let us know in the comments below. To learn how to better secure your guns from theft or kids, check out our list of Best Quick Access Safes.