Smart Guns Are a Smart Solution, But Not for Most Mass Shootings

Carl Weinschenk

The tragic run of gun violence of the past couple of months calls for strong measures. One promising tool, smart guns, seems to be accessible. The approach, which borrows significantly from mobile and enterprise IT technology, indeed is a good solution, but for a slightly different set of problems.

The most often discussed form of smart gun is one that employs the type of fingerprint sensor used on laptops. This, the thinking goes, can stop use of guns that are stolen, mistaken as toys by kids, or taken from citizens or law enforcement during a struggle.

In a generally informative piece at Network World, Deepak Puri, who has held executive positions at Oracle, Netscape and VMware and is founder of Skilled Analysts and co-founder of Democracy Labs, mentioned three companies that employ fingers in authentication in some way. BioFire Technologies and Safe Gun Technology use sensors. The third, iGun, relies on an authorizing signal from a ring worn by the legitimate user. When it is close to the gun stock, a code is sent that allows the trigger to be unlocked.

Another approach perhaps borrows even more liberally from IT and telecom. Brooklyn (N.Y.) Borough President Eric Adams recently ran a contest seeking the best student gun safety project. Adams, a retired NYPD detective, offered a $1 million grant to the winner. A group of inventors known as Autonomous Ballistics, which is associated with New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, developed a holster that has four levels of security.


Fingerprint readers are one of the four. Skeptics say stress and the perspiration it causes reduce reliability. Autonomous Ballistics' idea is to work around this issue by adding three other layers of authentication. The approaches, which are focused in the holster, use fingerprints, voice recognition, RF scanning and, as a last resort, an authorization code entered into a digital reader. If any of these works, the gun, a Glock, is released by the holster. The technology, the story says, can be adapted to other guns.

There is a catch. These technologies do indeed have great promise and can avoid a huge amount of heartache. But, for the most part, they don't have anything to do with mass shootings. Most mass shootings, such as the one at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 in which 58 people died, are carried out by legally owned guns.

Unfortunately, the insidious violence that smart guns can reduce rarely makes headlines or inspires debate. Thus, when a mass shooting does occur and smart guns are brought up, the easy answer by opponents is just that: Smart guns won’t stop most mass shootings. That's unfortunate. What is even more unfortunate is that it leaves the issue more squarely in the lap of politicians. This is how Wired puts it:

Smart guns have extensive demonstrable value. But a solution to the mass shooting epidemic in the US appears to rest in the political and regulatory arena—a place that has shown as little eagerness to embrace gun safety advancement as the industry itself.

Technology can play a big role in reducing gun violence. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be the answer for the highest profile manifestation of the problem.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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