“Smart” pistols enter the US arms market
WASHINGTON: “Smart” pistols designed to determine who can pull the trigger are entering the booming US gun market this year, aimed at reducing the number of firearm victims, as federal lawmakers face an impasse over gun regulation.
The technology’s usefulness and reliability, as well as the political battles over gun regulation, have been controversial for decades, but its proponents say it’s an opportunity to prevent children, criminals and people with self-harm tendencies from pulling the trigger.
But will buyers buy these smart weapons? Will technology succeed in the real world and provide more safety? They are two questions that may remain unanswered for years.
“I can’t tell if (smart guns) will be positive or negative, or if they will experience the same failure as other smart weapons in the past,” said Adam Skaggs, senior advisor and policy director at Giffords’ Anti-Proliferation Group.
The system, offered by entrepreneur Tom Holland’s company SmartGanz, uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Cards) chips, similar to the badges many people use in their cars to pay electronic tolls, embedded inside rings.
When the owner of the weapon holds his gun in his hand, he places a connected ring in it, a safety mechanism opens, enabling him to fire.
Holland has designed the technology especially for police officers who fear a suspect will seize their gun and parents who fear their children will find and use their firearms.
“It’s just a matter of gun safety,” Holland said. For buyers who want a ‘safer weapon’… they can get these smart weapons if they feel an urgent need to protect themselves.”
Holland expects to start selling his pistols, which he said are being tested by police across the United States, to civilians by April or May.
– Society with guns –
About 40 percent of American adults live in a home with guns, according to the Pew Research Center.
Firearms sales hit a record high in 2020, with about 23 million pieces sold, according to the Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting Consulting Group.
The COVID-19 pandemic and protests against racial discrimination contributed to a sharp rise in homicides in 2020, with rates still below the peak of the 1990s.
The shootings in schools and in public places also attracted strong attention to the topic, but more than half of the gun deaths, which amounts to about 40,000 annually, are suicides.
The authentication system is not only a physical barrier against accidents, suicides and crime, but also a psychological one, said Ginger Chandler, co-founder of smart-weapons maker Lodestar Works.
“In a moment of tension, the authorized person picks up the firearm, but they have to take that extra step that gives them time to think ‘Do I really want to do this’?” she explained.
And her company is developing a 9mm pistol that will be available on the market by 2023, which can be activated in three ways: via an application loaded on the phone, using a secret code or via a fingerprint sensor.
– Smart but lethal –
In 2000, Smith & Wesson, a firearms manufacturer, agreed with the administration of then-President Bill Clinton to conduct gun violence reforms that included the development of smart weapons, but the project did not see the light of day after violent interference from the powerful gun rights lobby in America.
In 2002, a New Jersey law that would ban handguns without a user authentication system caused quite a stir and was rewritten in 2019 to require state gun stores to sell smart guns as soon as they become commercially available.
The blow that was received by the German company “Armatics”, which developed a smart pistol, negatively affected this technology. In 2017, a hacker managed to breach the security system using a magnet.
While the concept of a smart weapon is supported by advocates of regulating the carrying of weapons, some experts have indicated that it remains a lethal weapon, however.
“The whole idea of a smart gun ignores the most common way guns are used to kill in the United States, the suicide of the person who bought them,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said in a statement.
However, this technology has its own appeal as political polarization appears to ensure that there are no new federal arms restrictions in the foreseeable future.
Gareth Glazer, co-founder of Lodestar, said the company had tried to avoid being drawn into the political debate over guns, adding, “It’s an alternative solution. We would prefer the government to stay away from this issue and allow the consumer to choose.”