Have you ever heard of smart guns? If not, let us bring you up to speed. Smart guns are firearms that use biometric trigger-identification as well as other technologies to prevent them from being fired by anyone other than their owners or authorized user. If you’re surprised to learn about these, and wondering why the U.S. isn’t using them, you aren’t alone.
Smart guns are already being used overseas, but in the United States, gun activists’ efforts and a New Jersey law have prevented smart guns from being sold here. Gun control advocates have pushed for smart guns for years in the hope that they could prevent many suicides and accidental shootings, especially those related to children. Several problems have arisen that have complicated getting smart guns on the market.
The first obstacle is a New Jersey law enacted in 2002 that was originally written to protect children. Loretta Weinberg, now the majority leader of the New Jersey Senate, introduced the Childproof Handgun Act in 1997 which stated that “three years after a personalized gun was offered for sale anywhere in the U.S., New Jersey firearm retailers would be required to sell only smart guns.”
However, her good intentions backfired. The NRA and other gun-rights groups claimed that the motivation behind the statute was to ban all other firearms. They called it a plot to disarm gun owners. Now, 13 years after the law went into affect, these arguments are keeping smart guns from coming onto the market.
Senator Weinberg is attempting to get rid of the law and replace it with one requiring that gun dealers offer at least one model of smart gun for sale. While gun activists believe that this is a smarter alternative which offers an acceptable compromise between gun advocates and activists, some are still weary. MotherJones contacted several gun dealers in New Jersey; one (declining to give their name) stated: “You can’t be required to carry anything in a store. It’s just like telling every shoe store that they have to sell a Nike. I believe they should be available, but the market has to decide what they want to use.”
Gun sellers who have attempted to sell smart guns have a history of being threatened. Andy Raymond, a gun store owner in Rockville Maryland, was threatened after he did an interview stating his intentions to sell a smart gun, the iP1. Before his interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes could even air, he received threats against his life in addition to a phone call in which the caller threatened to burn down his store. After the threats, Raymond decided not to sell the iP1, stating: “Great thing for gun rights when you threaten to shoot somebody.”
Even so, for the first time in its history, the technology of smart guns looks viable. At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, researchers have created a working prototype of a gun that fires based on a user’s “grip pattern.” Also, the Irish company, TriggerSmart, has created a gun lock—a sort of token—that must be carried in order to fire the gun.
But gun makers aren’t hopping on board. Part of the reason gun manufactures haven’t pursued smart guns may in part be due to manufacturers facing product-liability lawsuits. Larry Keane, a former lawyer for manufacturers in product-liability lawsuits states: “I will tell you: If you put it on one model and have other models that don’t have it—for whatever reason—and that model gets involved in an accident, I assure you a plaintiff’s lawyer is going to get an expert to say that that gun’s defective, because you coulda-shoulda put it on this gun. That is a reality of product-liability litigation in America.”
For now, manufacturers cannot be forced to pursue smart gun technology, or to make safer guns at all. Guns are exempt from many consumer safety laws. Even the Consumer Product Safety Commission is prohibited from regulating firearms.
So are smart guns the future? While there is clear evidence that smart guns could prevent much of gun-related accidents, questions still arise regarding whether smart guns, in their current form, are the best option for the prevention of mass shootings and other acts of gun violence.
I think the more pertinent question might be: Is America’s best option to give up on smart gun technology and its related legislation because of the perceived shortcomings, or is it our duty to do whatever we can to bring smart gun technology and legislation to a point where curtailing gun-violence is a reality?