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February 18, 2021

Smart Guns? Dumb Policy.

By Larry Keane

President Joe Biden said he’s figured it all out. Guns can be made safe if the firearm industry would just team up with Silicon Valley to create bio-enabled so-called “smart guns.”

This is according to a long-buried interview with the Las Vegas Sun conducted during the presidential campaign. The information contained in it is just now coming to light and some of the findings might show why. President Biden, as a candidate, was making outlandish pie-in-the-sky claims about theoretical, unproven and unreliable firearm technology.

President Biden claimed, according to this interview, “I also dealt with the folks in Silicon Valley; we have the capacity now to build any weapon where it can only be fired with your biometric marker. And that technology doesn’t violate anyone’s Second Amendment right at all. If you pass the background check, you can purchase a weapon which only you can pull the trigger.”

Smart Gun’s Failing Grade

He’s right on one count. As vice president, he did deal with tech leaders to attempt combining authorized-user, or so-called “smart gun” technology into firearms. It didn’t work. It didn’t get to the point where it could even be properly tested.

Then-Vice President Biden was in charge of an Obama administration task force to come up with gun control answers. One was to pursue so-called “smart gun” tech through the National Institutes of Justice. Officials there couldn’t even test a prototype because nothing was developed to the point where a safe and reliable product incorporating such a capability was available on the marketplace today. It still isn’t.

In 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Earl Griffith, chief of the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division said the technology still wasn’t there. “Some critics out there would say we have the technology and it would work, but I’ll tell you we don’t think the technology is there yet,” Griffith said.

That was after the U.S. government sunk at least $12.6 million in research to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to work with the tech industry to produce a working solution. It still eludes, but that doesn’t keep President Biden from dreaming.

Campaign Promises

Early on in the presidential campaign, President Biden claimed, “… we have the capacity now in a James Bond-style to make sure no one can pull a trigger unless their DNA and fingerprint is on it.” That’s some serious science-fiction fantasy technology. It makes for a good movie. In real life, it’s clumsy and failure prone at best and impossible at worst.

The president’s campaign trail claim of DNA-enabled smart guns is completely false. No one has introduced technology that would match a DNA sample to activate a firearm. However, attempts have been made at fingerprint-style authorized user-technology. Think of the way a fingerprint is used to open a smartphone. Now, think of all the times a smartphone won’t open when a fingerprint is applied. A little wet, not the right angle, dirty, God-forbid bloody… all these can cause a failure of the fingerprint lock to not activate the technology.

In a life-or-death situation when an individual is under duress and trying to activate the tool that would save their lives, swiping a fingerprint screen is the last concern. If your iPhone doesn’t open, you’re inconvenienced. If your firearm doesn’t work at the moment you need it you could be dead. That’s why study and survey work on this topic show that reliability is of paramount concern. Because the technology is not yet sufficiently reliable, there is very limited consumer interest in purchasing authorized-user equipped firearms.

Unwanted Mandate

Just five percent of those surveyed said they would consider purchasing a gun equipped with this technology. A full 70 percent said they had reliability concerns. They should. Firearms are more than just recreational target shooting tools. They’re also self-defense tools and in a life-or-death moment, they must work each and every time as intended. There is no room for a second attempt at a fingerprint match or battery failure.

Let me be explicitly clear, contrary to the false claims of gun control groups the firearm industry does not oppose the research and potential development of this technology being applied to firearms. Consumers are best left to decide what they want and the free market does a good job of weeding out bad ideas so good ones flourish. What NSSF strongly opposes, however, is the mandate of such technology, like what has recently been proposed by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). She introduced H.R. 1008, legislation that would mandate that every gun sold within five years be equipped with the unworkable technology. It goes further. It also would require all legacy firearms be retrofitted within 10 years. That’s sure to go over well with collectors.

The firearm industry also has serious concerns about product liability. Even the DOJ’s researchers agree that any so-called “smart gun” technology has to be as reliable as present-day technology. There’s no room for failure. That’s what good engineering does – it eliminates points of failure. This is a particularly important concept for tools that are used to defend innocent lives. Forcing manufacturers to adopt this unproven and unreliable technology exposes them to lawsuits when it fails, and it will. It also exposes them to allegations that models that previously didn’t incorporate “smart gun” technology are potentially “defectively designed.”

Product reliability will be demonstrated when the government adopts this technology for the firearms used by the Department of Defense or federal, state and local law enforcement. So far, however, none have stepped up eager to slap a microchip and fingerprint reader in the side of a service firearm. The National Fraternal Order of Police warned that police officers should not be used as guinea pigs. Not a single police department has adopted and mandated their use. It is an anathema on the battlefield where a soldier could be left defenseless if he or she couldn’t pick up a gun in a firefight to defend themselves and others. It’s easy to understand why. The technology isn’t reliable and if it is electronic, it is vulnerable to hacking or denial of service.

This is what gun control advocates won’t admit. There’s nothing that they promise can’t be done through so-called smart gun technology that’s not already available by less expensive and more reliable means. The solution to ending unauthorized use of firearms is properly applied gun locks. That can be as simple as the cable locking device that comes with the firearm, which the firearm industry has provided in the gun case when they’re sold at retail. There are other options too, like trigger locks, lock boxes or safes.

President Biden and his collaborators in Silicon Valley should take a drive through the rest of America. Americans prefer their elected officials to be a little smarter and their firearms to be left alone.

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