President Obama is trying to breathe new life into the long-delayed and often-boycotted smart gun. On Friday, the president announced that he would help boost the development of smart guns by supporting and encouraging manufacturers to build and test tech-enabled firearms and help companies sell the firearms to federal agencies and state law enforcement.
A smart gun refers to a firearm equipped with technology that only allows the gun's owner to operate it. The technology ranges from biometrics, like a fingerprint scanner or passcode to radio frequency transmitters in a ring or bracelet the shooter wears.
The announcement comes a few months after President Obama outlined his "commonsense" approach to gun safety reform in an effort to reduce the 30,000 gun-related deaths a year.
"Today, many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally. As long as we've got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun," President Obama said on Facebook.
Obama said the federal government will help encourage manufacturers to develop the long-awaited smart guns by offering millions in awards and grants to companies and manufacturers to develop the guns. Also, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice will define what a smart gun is and create standards for manufacturers that want to sell smart guns to federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies.
The Department of Defense will help manufacturers test smart guns in development at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland. The testing will help ensure the guns have gone through "real-world conditions" and to prove that the technology works. Manufacturers will also be eligible to win cash prizes through this testing program.
Once the technology is ready for the market, the Department of Justice will allow state and local governments to apply for federal grants in order to purchase smart guns for police and law enforcement.
But Obama's attempt to bring this technology to market will not be easy. Smart gun technology is not new. Iconic American firearm manufacturer Colt, which made the first revolver before the Civil War, attempted to make a smart gun in the 1990s, but gun rights groups boycotted the company and the prototype didn't work. In 2000, Smith & Wesson announced that it would make all of its guns "smart guns." Instead, the company suffered financially devastating boycotts and had to let go 15 percent of its staff. For the last 16 years, not one mainstream gun company introduced smart gun technology. Ever since then, smart gun technology simmered with entrepreneurs and startups.
In 2002, New Jersey lawmakers passed a law that said every gun in the state would have to be "smart" within three years of the first smart gun hitting the market. Gun rights advocates have successfully prevented manufacturers from releasing a smart gun because of this law.
As large gun manufacturers were too afraid to touch the smart gun, small group of entrepreneurs have been trying to convince the nation that smart gun technology could save lives. Armatix, a German company, brought its biometric handgun to the US, but has had trouble selling it. Recently, billionaire and Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway started the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, which has already invested $1 million with a funded gun startups to develop a reliable firearm equipped with identification technology.
One grant recipient was Jonathan Mossberg, formerly vice president at his family's firearm company, Mossberg & Sons. He is now the developer of the iGun, a shotgun that only fires if the shooter is wearing an RFID ring. Another recipient is Kai Kloepfer, who was in high school when he designed a fingerprint reading handgun. The Colorado native is now designing a fingerprint-access Beretta pistol.
But the opposition is fierce. James Pasco Jr., executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, which has more than 330,000 members, told Politico that the major concern is that the technology wouldn't be reliable in life-or-death situations.
"Police officers in general, federal officers in particular, shouldn't be asked to be guinea pigs in evaluating a firearm nobody's even seen yet," Pasco told Politico. "We have some very, very serious questions."
As for the National Rifle Association, the organization is completely opposed to smarter guns, telling the New York Times that the Obama administration just wants to add restrictions to gun owners.
"President Obama's obsession with gun control knows no bounds," Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the N.R.A.'s lobbying arm, told the Times.