Now that half the world will soon be walking around with an iPhone that recognizes the owner’s thumbprint as the way to unlock the device, it would stand to reason that smart-gun technologies would soon be offered to consumers as well. But what stands to reason in the mainstream consumer market rarely, if ever, penetrates the world of guns, so it came as no surprise to me that the first-ever symposium on smart-gun technology came and went without a single representative of the gun industry in sight.
I’m referring to a meeting this past week in Seattle, hosted by the Washington Technology Industry Association devoted to the issue of smart guns and featuring an appearance by Loretta Weinberg, the New Jersey State Senator who authored the nation’s first smart-gun legislation requiring all new guns in New Jersey to be equipped with smart-gun technology within 30 months after the first smart gun was sold anywhere in the United States. The countdown almost began last year when a gun shop in Maryland stocked a few models, but the owner yanked the guns off his shelf when the store was besieged by 2nd-Amendment terrorists who threatened to burn him down.
Smart-gun technology got started in a big way during the Clinton Administration which awarded $600,000 in R&D monies to Smith & Wesson and FN in return for undertaking research into the development of smart guns. These grants were the first step in a major investment in smart gun technology, with federal budget numbers as high as $10 million annually for research being bandied about. The only little problem was that the initial awards were announced in 2000 and an unforeseen event, a.k.a. the election of George W. Bush put a quick end to all such plans.
So here we are in the waning days of another President who should be extremely friendly to the idea of smart guns, but he has no money to give out to anyone for anything related to guns, and it was clear from comments at the Seattle smart-gun conference that nobody else has any real money to fork over either for research or for moving such products into the consumer market which is where the real test of this technology would have to take place. The conference host, the Washington Technology Industry Association, has certainly seen its share of new, electronic innovations over the years. After all, Seattle is a hop, skip and jump from Redmond, and I don’t have to tell you the name of a little hi-tech company that just happens to be located up there.
The folks who met in Seattle, while supportive of smart guns, were not unsparing in their concerns about possible technical and legal problems that such technology represents. To begin, there is the simple issue of whether or not the technology actually works, and while there are several smart guns that allegedly have been tested under real-life conditions, even smart-gun proponents like King County Sheriff John Urquhart voiced concerns at the conference about whether he could trust this and other electronic gun accessories to operate in ways that would not impede the overall effectiveness of a police officer’s gun.
Much has been made in the liberal media about the NRA’s opposition to smart gun technology, but for once I have to say that taking the NRA to task over this issue may be a little bit overblown. It’s true that some of the NRA bloggers and their allies in the ultra-right media have spoken out against these guns from time to time. But this is nothing more than the usual attempts to feed the 2nd Amendment ‘absolutists’ their daily ration of red meat.
The problem with smart gun technology is that, unlike other new technologies, it’s coming from outside the industry rather than from within. And the gun industry, the recent fascination with lasers notwithstanding, is a notoriously conservative, un-innovative industry from a technology point of view. After all, probably the best-selling handgun today is the exact same gun that John Browning designed in 1907, a year before the first Model T. Anyone seen a Model T lately?