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Efforts to restart smart-gun innovation could misfire again

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 17, 2016
Smart-gun technology is now benefiting from faster processors and the miniaturization of processors

Jonathan Mossberg is a descendent of a nearly century-old, leading American arms manufacturer, so a couple of months ago when his 21-year-old daughter refused his gift of a handgun because she was afraid an attacker might take it away and use it against her, he realized he'd found a key demographic for a smart gun.

Sixteen years earlier, Mossberg had been working at his family's namesake company, O.F. Mossberg & Sons in North Haven, Conn., which was founded in 1919 by his great-grandfather Oscar. The company had previously attempted to develop a shotgun that could be fired only by its owner, but the technology proved unreliable so the younger Mossberg set himself the task of developing a more sophisticated weapon.

As the platform, he chose the company's Model 500, a 12-gauge shotgun in production since 1961. Mossberg's goal was to create a gun that could pass a U.S. military use standard (also known as Mil-Spec), while also preventing anyone other than its owner to fire it. And he succeeded -- 16 years ago.

"My patent attorney thought I had the next dotcom, but focus groups said they weren't interested in circuit boards in guns," said Mossberg, who is 51.

However, "half a generation later" Mossberg found technology-savvy consumers who were ready.

"Kids are living on their cell phones; reliability of the circuits boards are not an issue with them. The cops love the product," Mossberg said.

But the picture's still not completely rosy. Like other innovators who've developed smart gun technology, Mossberg found seed money difficult to come by for his iGun Technology Corp. and its iGun. Still, he managed. Between his family's arms business and a machining business he later opened, he was able to put about $5 million into developing the weapon.

"The market now is not in shotguns; there's a market in handguns because that's a billion-dollar market," Mossberg continued. "We're going to jump to the handgun as soon as we raise enough money to do that... but we're tapped out."

Smart gun

The circuit board inside the iGun's stock is from iGun Technology Corp., also the weapon's maker. The processor recognizes a signal from an RFID chip in a shooter's ring and unlocks the gun's trigger.

Pushback against smart guns is common from some gun owners and advocacy groups. The fear is two-fold. For one, gun owners are concerned that adding technology to a weapon's time-tested functionality could cause the gun to fail when it's most needed. Second, there's fear that once smart guns are available, states and the federal government will mandate them. That fear is not without merit.


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