"We're not talking about electronics that launch men up to the space station or Mars or even in an everyday airplane with a few hundred people on board," said Margot Hirsch, president of the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation. "We're talking about ruggedizing and miniaturizing electronics, but not under as rigorous conditions as we see in other markets. This technology is not new."
Hirsch pointed out that no one smart gun technology is going to fit all gun owners' needs. For example, police and military who often wear gloves may not choose an embedded fingerprint reader that would fit the bill for a home defense weapon.
"I think a gun owner would pick a smart gun technology depending on the purpose of the gun," she said. "Think of this in relation to when the Apple iPhone first came out. The first generation of smart guns will appeal to those who are comfortable with the new technology. Then there's going to be a segment of the market who'll not be comfortable."
However, the technology most likely has a place in a nation that allows millions of citizens to own a firearm legally. For example, suicides are the leading cause of firearm death and most often those guns are owned by a family member or friend. If those firearms had biosensors, their use could be limited.
A smart-shotgun prototype from TriggerSmart, a company founded by Tom Lynch, who won a $100,00 grant from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation. The smart gun uses the latest RFID and wireless technologies, and only a shooter wearing a corresponding ring can fire the weapon.
Hirsch, whose fiancé owns a gun, refuses to buy one herself because like Mossberg's daughter she's "terrified" it could be wrestled away from her by an attacker. "If there were smart guns, I'd probably own a gun because I'd never be concerned it would be used against me," she said.
A technology in need of backers
While smart-gun technology has been in development for nearly two decades, research efforts have most often stalled because of a lack of funding. When the technology has come to market, it has at times been met by vehement pushback from gun rights groups that fear any adoption could lead to new local or national laws. Even Silicon Valley tech firms have been reluctant to join in on the political battlefront, Hirsch said.
"We desperately need capital investment, and the technology community is not stepping up," Hirsch said.
Mossberg said the lack of funding is not as much a matter of tech firms avoiding the smart gun political brouhaha but more about a lack of outreach to that community.
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