Ever since the Clinton Administration ponied up some R&D money, the idea of creating a smart’ gun, or what is also called a ‘personalized’ gun has been flopping around the edges of the gun-control debate without much to show for it except a couple of government reports, an overpriced 22-caliber pistol that may or may not work very well and an occasional news story which just takes us back to Square One.
And Square One in the discussion about ‘smart’ guns is whether the average gun owner would be interested in owning a smart gun at all. Because no matter how you slice it or dice it, putting an electronic gatekeeping device on a gun just isn’t as simple, easy or cheap as putting a fingerprint reader on a droid. The whole point of droid electronics is that everything that makes the device work is wired through a screen. But guns don’t have screens; they have metals and hard plastics and movable parts. Believe me, if someone could have come up with a droid-like fingerprint scanner that worked on a gun the way it works on a phone, it would have already been done.
Back in 2015 our friends at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School conducted a survey which found that 60% of respondents said they would consider buying a ‘smart’ gun, but a major gap in this survey was that the people who answered weren’t asked how much they would be willing to spend beyond the cost of the gun to personalize the weapon with an electronic device. And a comment by a member of the Hopkins research group that such a gun could use technology that ‘already exists’ simply isn’t true.
Sooner or later, someone has to explain how electronic devices that would be used to create a ‘safe’ gun actually work. Because if you read descriptions of smart-gun technologies, they will tell you how the gizmo works that identifies someone who has been programmed to use a particular gun, but what they don’t tell you is what has to happen inside the gun after the scanner reads the database and finds a print which is a match. And what most of the descriptions tell you is that once a match is made, then the gizmo ‘unlocks’ the trigger and away we go.
But unlocking the trigger of a gun isn’t the same thing as just taking a key and unlocking the front door. In order to ‘unlock’ a trigger so that it can be pulled to fire a gun, at least three separate parts in the gun have to change their positions, these parts connecting the trigger to the hammer to the firing pin or striker, or otherwise the gun doesn’t work. And if one of these parts doesn’t shift its position with enough force, energy or pressure, when you pull the trigger all you will hear is a – click! This is the reason you can’t just attach a fingerprint scanner to a gun without entirely redesigning the inner workings of the gun. So to make a ‘smart’ gun you are basically designing and manufacturing a new gun, which means you’re not just adding a new part to the gun the way you might change the grips.
The smart gun folks could get around the cost problem if the government would mandate ownership of smart guns. But the odds of that happening are about the same as the odds that Donald Trump would actually say something that’s true. The only smart gun that has ever hit the market (for a day) was the 22-caliber Armatix pistol which had a retail price of over $1,700 bucks, and even though the company has announced a 9mm prototype, I don’t notice that they have announced a price. And the idea that in low-bid America the cops would ever carry a pricey gun of any kind is like Humphrey Bogart’s final words at the end of Maltese Falcon: This is what dreams are made of.”