June 25, 2013
U.S. Justice Dept. Agrees: Smart Guns Don’t Exist
The Obama Administration is right: “There are no personalized firearms available commercially in the United States,” despite more than 15 years of government-funded and private-sector research and development efforts.
The Justice Department’s new report, “A Review of Gun Safety Technologies,” once again confirms that “authorized user recognition” technology is still in prototype stages. While this conclusion is not surprising, it is notable considering the Justice Department chose to rely on company marketing materials in its review.
An “authorized user recognition” firearm is a concept whereby a firearm would have some sort of technology built into it to recognize and only be capable of firing for an “authorized user.” Since the mid-1990s, the “smart gun” or “personalized gun” concept was proposed as technological response to law enforcement officers being injured or killed when a criminal wrestles the officer’s firearm away and uses it against the officer. Fortunately, officer take away incidents are declining due to improve training and better holster designs.
The June 16 National Institute of Justice report admits that there was no physical testing of the technology and falls short of a critical analysis of the technology’s status. The half-hearted summary is essentially a review of self-promotional materials published by companies seeking to develop the conceptual technology. Rather than advancing the study of “smart gun” technology, this review only serves to reaffirm that the technology isn’t ready to be brought to market. As prior government-funded studies concluded, reliability is the top concern and there is little consumer demand for the technology.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation does not oppose the development of authorized user recognition technology for firearms. In fact, the report acknowledges that, “a number of well-known names from the firearms industry have pursued serious efforts to produce functional prototypes over the years. While none were successful enough with their designs to bring models to the marketplace, initial R&D has provided a wealth of knowledge and experience on which to build.”
What the industry does oppose are ill-conceived mandates, like California SB 293, on the use of this conceptual technology due to reliability challenges, product liability concerns, and unintended safety consequences. Mandates also interfere with the ability of the market to respond to consumer choice because the government makes the “one size fits all” choice for consumers. And, of course, mandates are unwarranted considering everyone agrees that smart guns are not available in the marketplace.
Larry Keane is senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @lkeane.