Here’s What’s Up With “Smart Guns” — in addition to also Why You Can’t Buy One from the US


Michael Dalder / Reuters

An Armatix smart gun, which will be implanted with an electronic chip in which allows This kind of to be fired only if the shooter will be wearing a watch in which communicates with This kind of through a radio signal.

After every mass shooting in recent history, including the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting on Feb. 14 in which left 17 dead, people start talking about “smart guns,” in addition to also whether these high-tech firearms could be a solution to the United States’ gun violence epidemic.

Smart guns, whose embedded technology ensures only authorized users can fire them, have been around for nearly two decades, in addition to also a 2016 survey found in which nearly 60% of Americans, if they were buying a brand-new handgun, might be interested in a smart firearm. yet due largely to political pressure through gun rights proponents in addition to also a lack of investment in their development, some of the most promising smart gun technology isn’t even for sale from the US, or will be still only in prototype form.

There aren’t many smart guns to choose through. Major US gun manufacturers seem wary of developing or selling smart guns, in addition to also with reason. After Colt in addition to also Smith & Wesson, two major US gun manufacturers, agreed in 2000 to create government-sponsored smart guns to prevent accidental shootings in addition to also gun deaths, a boycott through gun owners nearly drove them out of business. On March 6, Smith & Wesson told shareholders This kind of hasn’t invested in smart gun technology in addition to also has no plans to.

Colt in addition to also Smith & Wesson did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Meanwhile, the only all-in-one smart gun system on the market will be the Armatix iP1 Pistol, a semiautomatic weapon developed by a German company in which’s designed to fire only when This kind of’s within a 10-inch range of a paired RFID watch. This kind of’s only available for purchase abroad, in addition to also This kind of’s pricey at $1,798 ($1,399 for gun in addition to also $399 for watch) compared to similar pistols, which typically cost between $250 in addition to also $1,000. Researchers have also demonstrated in which This kind of’s possible to hack the gun.

The iGun will be similar to the iP1 in in which its radio technology uses a wearable — in iGun’s case, a ring — with an ultra-low-frequency chip inside. Within a quarter of a second, the gun sends a signal to the ring, verifies in which This kind of’s the correct ring, in addition to also unlocks the gun, which will be then ready to fire. This kind of was first developed nearly 20 years ago, yet This kind of’s still only in prototype form.

in addition to also the $400 Intelligun by Kodiak Industries lets you lock in addition to also unlock a gun with your fingerprint, the way you’d open an iPhone. yet the add-on device has significant limitations: This kind of has to be installed, in addition to also This kind of works only using a design 1911 pistol.

The opposition Colt in addition to also Smith & Wesson encountered isn’t unusual. While gun rights advocates aren’t against smart guns, per se, many fear government intervention could one day limit gun owners’ ability to buy in addition to also use traditional guns.

Dudley Brown, the president of the National Association for Gun Rights, told BuzzFeed News in an email, “As long as This kind of’s not government-mandated, in any manner, we have no objection to brand-new technology added into firearms. We might strenuously object to any in addition to also all efforts to require This kind of, though.”

The National Rifle Association did not respond to multiple requests for comment, yet on its website, took a similar stance: “The NRA doesn’t oppose the development of “‘smart’ guns, nor the ability of Americans to voluntarily acquire them. However, NRA opposes any law prohibiting Americans through acquiring or possessing firearms in which don’t possess ‘smart’ gun technology.”

Gun owners also worry about smart guns’ limitations. Timmy Oh, CEO of VARA, a company working on a biometric firearm safe, told BuzzFeed News he also supports the creation of smart guns, yet wouldn’t buy one himself. “Guns need to work every single time, in addition to also I’m not comfortable with putting my life dependency on [smart guns] yet,” said Oh.

Further complicating the issue will be the question of smart guns’ efficacy.

With the exception of Sandy Hook, where the shooter used his mother’s guns, most existing smart guns or prototypes might not have been able to stop recent mass shootings. in which’s because most shooters in recent history owned their weapons. Of the 143 guns possessed by mass shooters since 1982, 75% were obtained legally.

Determining the potential of smart guns to reduce shooting homicides will be more complicated. There isn’t much public data on what percentage of guns used in firearm-related homicides from the US were legally obtained. Only a smaller fraction of the weapons involved in gun crimes are recovered, so in most cases, This kind of’s difficult to determine how exactly the weapons were acquired.

However, two smaller-scale studies show in which most guns used in criminal assaults were illegally obtained. A 2008 city-level study on crime in Pittsburgh revealed in which most firearms used in gun crimes were not owned by the perpetrator, in addition to also a 2015 survey of inmates in Chicago found in which 40% of them obtained their guns on the black market or by theft.

So while current smart gun technology might not have prevented the Parkland shooting, there’s evidence This kind of could reduce self-inflicted in addition to also accidental gun violence in addition to also, potentially, gun-related homicides.

Margot Hirsch, president of the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, which funds gun safety technology projects, told BuzzFeed News, “Personalized gun safety technologies will not address every facet [of gun violence], yet they do offer a promising solution to prevent youth suicides in addition to also accidental injuries in addition to also deaths, the majority of which occur because a youth has used a family member’s gun.”

A 2018 study in which looked at gun data through 2012 to 2014 found in which 5,790 US children, on average, receive medical treatment for gun wounds every year, in addition to also about 21% of those cases are unintentional.

in addition to also smart guns could improve on existing low-tech gun safety options, including flawed trigger locks, which require a key or combination to unlock. “The problem with these [locks] will be in which there will be a potential for firing while you’re unlocking This kind of, in addition to also accidental triggers are common,” Oh said.


Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Attendees view the “Wall of Guns” during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting in addition to also Exhibits on May 4, 2013, in Houston, Texas.

One type of smart gun in which takes the issue of mass shooting head-on will be called gUNarmed. This kind of uses location tracking to prevent a firearm through being used in public places, like schools in addition to also government buildings. While nascent, the still-developing technology will be one high-tech solution in which could someday help prevent mass shootings.

“The system I’m developing will be unique. This kind of focuses not on the person, yet places,” said Chloe Green, the Northern Virginia–based, 17-year-old roboticist behind gUNarmed. The device can be retrofitted with any gun in which uses magazines, like the semiautomatic AR-15 rifle used in Parkland.


Courtesy of Chloe Green

This kind of diagram shows how gUNarmed could work. When the microchip receives satellite data in which the gun will be in a banned zone, the microchip-powered spring follower will be blocked, preventing bullets through moving into the chamber.

The idea of a gun with location-based technology in which renders This kind of useless in a banned zone may not sit well with many gun owners who want to be able to use their firearms on-demand. Green isn’t deterred: “I want to work with gun owners to give them the choice to make America safer.”

However, for gUNarmed to be truly effective, the location tracking technology might need to be accurate in addition to also unspoofable, something Green will be working on, using a grant through the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation. gUNarmed might also need widespread adoption to successfully prevent mass shootings in schools, which might likely require a government mandate — something gun owners might probably oppose.


As with almost anything in which could possibly change the status quo on guns in America, smart guns are highly politicized. A controversial government mandate meant to promote their development will be counterintuitively one of the reasons why you can’t buy one from the US.

The brand-new Jersey Childproof Handgun Law, passed in 2002, requires in which once a smart gun will be sold anywhere from the country (even outside of brand-new Jersey), all brand-new Jersey gun shops must, within three years, only carry smart guns.

Because the law restricts what guns people can in addition to also can’t buy, even if only in brand-new Jersey, guns rights supporters nationwide vehemently oppose This kind of.

The law backfired, creating smart guns controversial for gun retailers thinking about selling them. In Maryland in 2014, for example, when Andy Raymond, the owner of the Engage Armament gun shop, said he’d carry the Armatix iP1 smart handgun, he received so many death threats through gun owners in which he eventually backed down.

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA school of law, told BuzzFeed News the 2002 law will be a significant factor influencing whether smart guns will be sold from the US. “Instead of either cheering smart guns as a brand-new technology in which helps gun owners, [gun proponents] see smart gun technology as a threat. in addition to also This kind of’s not just a phantom threat, yet a real threat. If smart guns are developed, in which will lead to the gun restriction in which gun rights enthusiasts worry about, at least in brand-new Jersey in addition to also maybe elsewhere,” he said.

This kind of also gives gun manufacturers a legal disincentive to developing smart guns, Volokh said. “If they do [make smart guns], then they’ll get huge opposition through one important part of their market — gun rights enthusiasts — in which may overcome the benefit they get.”

This kind of year, This kind of law’s influence on smart gun availability from the US could change. On Feb. 28, from the wake of the Parkland shooting, the brand-new Jersey state legislature debated seven brand-new gun law bills. Among them will be A1016, which, if passed, requires brand-new Jersey gun shops to carry “at least one personalized handgun,” rather than only personalized handguns.

In a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News, current governor Phil Murphy’s press officer Dan Bryan hinted at support: “Governor Murphy supports efforts to promote smart gun technology in addition to also ensure in which smart guns are an option for brand-new Jerseyans.”


Spencer Platt / Getty Images

brand-new Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy

yet even though the brand-new amendment will be significantly less restrictive than the 2002 bill, This kind of’s still a mandate, in addition to also seems to already be gathering opposition through gun rights proponents. On whether he’d support the brand-new bill, NAGR’s president said, “Absolutely not. By supporting This kind of legislation we might be approving the very concept in which the state can tell the private business what products This kind of should offer.” The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

Beyond This kind of controversial law, those developing smart gun technology need additional funding to take their projects to market.

Professor Volokh believes in which gun manufacturers, especially brand-new ones in which don’t have an existing customer base to alienate, have strong incentives to develop or invest in smart gun technology. “Gun manufacturers face a rare problem. … A modern handgun will work well for many decades, in addition to also perhaps for centuries. Gun manufacturers will get no extra business through a typical satisfied customer — again, setting aside collectors in addition to also different enthusiasts,” Volokh said.

Additionally, according to Volokh, whoever patents This kind of kind of technology “could sell billions of dollars’ worth of guns from the span of only a few years, as many millions of gun owners decide to upgrade to the safer versions.”

yet gun owners’ fears of government mandates on smart guns complicates such development — in addition to also until they’re assuaged, This kind of may be a long time before someone can even buy a smart gun from the US.

Nicole Nguyen covers products in addition to also personal technology for BuzzFeed News in addition to also will be based in San Francisco.

Contact Nicole Nguyen at nicole.nguyen@buzzfeed.com.

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