‘Smart guns’ may help prevent violence
Personalized weapons can be fired only by their legal owners.
It’s been a rough week for gun control advocacy. The assault weapons ban was stripped out of legislation the Senate is due to consider next month, and the expansion of background checks appears to be on the ropes. The sweeping changes anticipated in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre are being swept away.Meanwhile, the Ohio teenager who killed three students and wounded three more in a shooting last year appeared in court wearing a T-shirt with the word “Killer” penned across it and made an obscene gesture to the victims’ families. (He was given a life sentence.) In Colorado, the director of the state’s Corrections Department, Tom Clements, was gunned down at his own front door on the same day the state’s governor signed gun control measures.
Maybe technology can help prevent gun violence where government is failing.
Gun makers experimenting with personal identification technology have been working on weapons that can be fired only by their legal owners.Armatix, for example, is releasing a system that requires a fingerprint scan or coded wristwatch to discharge a weapon, or a PIN code to release the gun’s safety.
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Another example is the iGun, which is equipped with a mechanism that prevents the company’s handgun and rifle models from being fired unless a special ring on the owner’s finger is detected. The ring is equipped with a code that unblocks the trigger.
Others use systems that sense the unique pattern of a user’s grip, or RFID tags so tiny they can be embedded under the owner’s skin.
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“Smart gun” technology has been maturely developed for years, reports NPR’s Dan Bobkoff this week. The market for it just hasn’t been there.
The expectation of smart-gun makers and gun control proponents has been that the Sandy Hook school shootings would shift the popular mindset to their favor. While it’s possible that the Newtown shooter would have been an approved user of the guns his mother owned, defeating smart gun safeguards, the technology could help prevent gun deaths by deterring owners from illegally using arms directly linked to their identities and by reducing accidental shootings.
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Not everyone agrees, even on the control side of the equation. NPR quotes an executive from the Violence Policy Center (VPC), a gun control group, as saying that the majority of mass shootings are committed by the legal owners of legal weapons — so an additional tie between owners and their weapons wouldn’t make much difference. VPC’s Josh Sugarmann doubts that many of the nation’s 30,000 annual gun deaths would be prevented.
But if smart guns could curb that obscene statistic by even a small degree, it would be a step in the right direction. If the technology appeals to responsible gun owners, they could play a role in reducing the number of tragedies without waiting on politicians to prioritize public safety.
Photo: Smart gun/New Jersey Institute of Technology/AP
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