Today’s announcement by President Barack Obama of new steps in the development of so-called “smart gun” technology comes with the release of a report from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense that may raise eyebrows among some gun rights activists.
“By incorporating electronic systems into a firearm’s design,” the 16-page report explains in its introduction, “manufacturers can give gun owners greater control over how a weapon is used, both by limiting who can fire the gun (‘user-authorization technology’) and by making a gun easier to retrieve if it is lost or stolen (‘electronic recovery technology’).” The report may be read here.
Among the skeptics is the National Rifle Association. The NRA has never been opposed to development of new technology, but they, like millions of gun owners, are concerned about “smart gun” mandates, and President Obama’s gun control “obsession.”
“President Obama’s obsession with gun control knows no boundaries,” said Jennifer Baker, director of Public Affairs for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, in a statement to the press Friday afternoon. “At a time when we are actively fighting terrorists at home and abroad, this administration would rather focus the military’s efforts on the president’s gun control agenda.”
“Gun owners—whether law enforcement officers, hunters, or homeowners seeking to protect their property—expect their firearms to work seamlessly, under all conditions, without concern for technical malfunction.”—Report to the President
The report is candid about the obstacles that must be overcome in order to make “smart guns” acceptable to the public and law enforcement professionals, the latter who may find themselves on the front lines of testing the technology. The report suggests that federal, state and local governments “can support this effort in two ways: by lowering the cost of bringing new technology to market, and by exercising their collective purchasing power, where appropriate, to spur development.
“This report proposes a policy initiative that would support both of these methods,” the report says. “Over the next six months, the Administration will partner with state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies to establish the specific conditions under which they would consider purchasing firearms with advanced gun safety technology.”
The report notes that law enforcement agencies “cannot and should not equip their officers with firearms that make them, or the communities they serve, less safe.” But by recruiting the involvement of law enforcement professionals to develop specifications, the report suggested, the Administration “can lay the groundwork for expanded use of gun safety technology in the near future.” Guidelines for the work are expected in October, according to The Hill.
By the same token, any firearm with this technology that is sold in the commercial market to private citizens needs to work all the time, without fail. And, according to skeptics, it must never become part of a mandate. There is a genuine concern that anti-gun politicians, as they attempted to do in New Jersey, could require that all firearms sold beyond a specific date would have to be equipped with “smart gun” technology.
“To be clear,” the report emphasizes, “this report calls for the development of new technology—and not a mandate that any particular individual or law enforcement agency adopt the technology once developed.”
“Gun owners—whether law enforcement officers, hunters, or homeowners seeking to protect their property—expect their firearms to work seamlessly, under all conditions, without concern for technical malfunction,” the report acknowledges. “To make ‘smart’ gun technology saleable to a wide range of consumers, manufacturers must ensure that these firearms operate properly in the high-stress situations when firearms are needed most.”
“At a time when we are actively fighting terrorists at home and abroad, this administration would rather focus the military’s efforts on the president’s gun control agenda.”—Jennifer Baker, director of Public Affairs for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action
Margot Hirsch, president of the Smart Tech Challenge Foundation, applauded the report in a statement to the press. The challenge was launched in 2013, resulting in funding for 15 “smart gun” innovators. Her organization said the government’s plan to test such guns in “real world” conditions “is a prudent and necessary next step in building a market for guns that won’t fall into the wrong hands.”
“Smart Tech is encouraged by the federal government’s commitment to adopting safer, smarter technologies for firearms,” Hirsch said in a prepared statement. “Smart guns that meet the highest standards—of both safety and operability—can help prevent unintentional shootings and realize safer communities. We have seen firsthand the promise of these technologies from our Challenge innovators who have much to contribute to the future of smart guns.”
According to Newsmax and the Associated Press, President Obama said in a Facebook post that, “Many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally. As long as we’ve got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun.”
However, Obama reportedly acknowledged that, “These common-sense steps are not going to prevent every tragedy, but what if they prevented even one? We should be doing everything we can to save lives and spare families the pain and unimaginable loss too many Americans have endured.”
There have been some attempts to develop the technology that had somewhat less than stellar results, as detailed in the report. Colt’s Manufacturing was awarded $500,079 in 1997 that resulted in the delivery of two prototypes in 2000, but “they were deemed too unreliable to undergo substantial test firings,” the report said.
Another effort by Smith & Wesson “explored several types of firearm authentication, including PIN codes, fingerprint sensors, and skin tissue spectroscopy.” However, the report noted, “Although the company originally planned to deliver 50 prototypes for testing and evaluation, only two were ultimately delivered. The project ended in 2005.”
A third project by FN Manufacturing was aimed at developing a “Secure Weapon System” to be unlocked by an RFID device worn as a ring on the user’s hand. “During testing,” the report said, “the prototypes fired a combined 1,500 rounds with only one mechanical incident, although evaluators noted that the weapon behaved erratically and that blunt force could override the authentication system. The grant funding ended in 2006 and FN Manufacturing did not pursue the project further.”
Five different manufacturers were given grants by the National Institute of Justice “to explore different user-authorization technologies.” According to the report, “The most advanced of these efforts involved iGun Technology, which had previously developed a shotgun in 1999 that could be unlocked by an RFID device worn as a ring on the user’s firing hand.”
The New Jersey Institute of Technology received a grant to develop a firearm that could be unlocked with “dynamic grip recognition.” That project continued from 2004 through 2014, including a transfer of funding from NIJ to the Bureau of Justice Assistance. But in 2014, funding “was expended.”
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