News Column

Technology That Could Cut Gun Toll

Jan 8, 2013
gun control

Biometrics and grip pattern detection can sense the registered owner of a gun and allow only that person to fire it. But you would be hard-pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores.

Gun owners and advocates are fond of saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

This might be a more useful aphorism: Smart-guns don't kill the wrong people.

Why can we open our front doors with our iPhones and have cars that drive themselves, but we cannot make a gun that does not fire unless its registered owner is using it?

Technology exists, or could exist, that would make guns safer. The idea of a safe gun might seem to be the ultimate oxymoron: Guns are designed to kill. But something missing from the gun-control debate that has followed the killing of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, is the role of technology in preventing or at least limiting gun deaths.

Biometrics and grip pattern detection can sense the registered owner of a gun and allow only that person to fire it. For example, the iGun, made by Mossberg Group, cannot be fired unless its owner is wearing a ring with a chip that activates the gun.

But you would be hard-pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores. "The gun industry has no interest in making smart-guns. There is no incentive for them," said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at the State University of New York, in Cortland, and the author of four books on gun policy. "There is also no appetite by the government to press ahead with any kind of regulation requiring smart-guns."

Gun advocates are staunchly against smart-gun technologies, partly because so many guns are bought not in gun shops, but in private sales. "Many guns are bought and sold on the secondary market without background checks, and that kind of sale would be inhibited with fingerprinting-safety technologies in guns," Mr. Spitzer said.

I called several major gun makers and the National Rifle Association. No one thinks a smart-gun would stop a determined killer. But I thought Smith & Wesson and Remington, for instance, would want to discuss how technology might help reduce accidental shootings, which killed 600 people and wounded more than 14,000 in the United States in 2010. The gun makers did not respond, and neither did the N.R.A.

A Wired magazine article from 2002 gives a glimpse of the N.R.A.'s thinking. "Mere mention of 'smart-gun' technology elicited sneers and snickers faster than a speeding bullet," the magazine wrote. It quoted the N.R.A.'s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as saying, "Victims couldn't have been saved by trigger locks or magazine bans or 'smart-gun' technology, or some new government commission running our firearms companies."

After the massacre in Newtown in December, Mr. LaPierre created a new aphorism: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." He said violent video games and movies were part of the problem, but he did not mention smart-guns as a solution.

TriggerSmart, an Irish company, has patented a childproof smart-gun. One feature is a "safe zone" that can be installed in schools and acts as a force field, disabling any TriggerSmart gun that enters a designated area. Robert McNamara, the company's founder, has been trying to persuade gun makers to adopt the technology. He is not having much luck. "One gun manufacturer told us if we put this technology in one particular gun and some kid gets shot with another gun, then they will have to put them in all guns," he said.

"We believe we could have helped prevent the Newtown massacre," Mr. McNamara said.



Source: (C) 2013 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved


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