January 27, 2013

Technology To Make Firearms Safer Still A Long Way In Coming

Movies, TV shows and video games have all envisioned firearms that cannot be used against their owners. These so-called “safe guns” are not limited to the realm of science fiction however, but so far few have ended up in the hands of actual shooters.

The technology was first truly considered in 1992 when a group of students at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland devised a system that would allow a gun to only be fired when held by its rightful owner. In the more than two decades since the U.S. government has reportedly spent millions of dollars on grants and other incentive programs for research to develop such a personalized firearm.

The State of New Jersey even passed a law in 2002 that mandated that if such a firearm were to become commercially available; that all guns sold within the state would have to incorporate such technology within three years. That is a mighty tall order, and one that likely is part of the holdup.

With such restrictions in place, there is little reason for gun manufacturers to develop the technology. Especially as so far it seems that most law abiding gun owners aren’t interested in it.

But even law enforcement officials have reportedly said they would not embrace such technology, for the reason that this could further result in the chance of a firearm malfunctioning. Officers are trained to respond to jams and misfires, but a software glitch that rendered a firearm unusable could be highly problematic.

It is unlikely that law enforcement would want to carry such firearms on a daily basis, nor would such smartguns be useful for home defense. A decade ago, gun rights author Duncan Long summed it up quite well, writing, “Most of us have had experience with electronic equipment that failed; who wants a firearm that is as reliable as Windows 3.1?”

That isn’t to say that some companies haven’t attempted to bring such products to market. Mossberg Shotguns through its Advanced Ordnance subsidiary actually developed a s “smart” shotgun that utilized RFID technology that required the user of the gun to wear a special ring. This passive system was brought to market via IGun Tehcnology Corp., but the technology has failed to catch on.

Colt, which remains one of the largest manufacturers of firearms in the United States, also introduced a system that required a firearm user to wear a special bracelet that emitted a radio signal, which in turn would allow the gun to fire. This system was eventually scuttled over battery concerns and failure to operate, which comes back to Long’s comments that few will want to endure putting up with a system that could be ripe with failures.

German gun maker Armatix also has devised a system that takes the security a step further. This smart gun system features a special wrist watch that also acts as an electronic trigger lock, but unlike the aforementioned systems, which could be used by anyone with the dongle key – ring or bracelet – the Armatix system requires the user to scan his/her own fingerprint to activate the radio in the watch. The biggest drawback to this system is that it could cost upwards of $9,500 per firearm.

None of this is to say that the concept of a smart gun is a bad idea or that the technology won’t come. The technology could be a good one for ensuring that only the legitimate user of a firearm can fire it. This could be ideal for those with small children, and could lessen the likelihood of a Newtown, Conn. tragedy.

Of course a good sturdy gun safe and some common sense could do a lot as well.

Image Credit: gennady / Shutterstock

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on,,, and Peter is a regular writer for

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