The idea of a smarter gun is one that's quite familiar in many circles. From the Lawgiver in “Judge Dredd” that will only fire when a Judge is holding it (those who don't match are greeted with explosive results) to the smart guns in “Aliens” that can be rendered inert with the removal of one externally-mounted component and the palm-print-coded gun from “Skyfall,” smart guns have made regular appearances, mostly in science fiction. But as is so often the case, today's science fiction is tomorrow's science fact, and smarter guns may be coming sooner than many thought.
Armatix's United States division is reportedly hard at work on such technology, and recently demonstrated a weapon that would actually know if it should be fired by the person holding it. The weapon syncs to a watch unit that, essentially, forbids its use without being in close contact with the watch, turning a normal firearm into a personalized weapon that can only be fired by the watch holder. The watch uses radio frequency technology to make that bridge, and helps provide a measure of protection against unauthorized use. Not a bad start, but there are other measures out there as well, like the use of a code number—almost like a PIN or password—to activate the weapon, and in some cases, only activate it for a certain amount of time. Armatix weapons aren't available for sale yet in the United States, but reports suggest that it may be available as early as this fall.
Some note that the addition of improvements like these may further help reduce accidental death at the hands of firearms, as well as cut down on issues like gun crime and children taking weapons to school. But others—like the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Lawrence Keane—aren't so sure. Keane believes that several locking methods are already in place, and notes several statistics to support that. Accidents are on the decline, and firearms manufacturers include free locks as a matter of course. On the issue of requirements to use this sort of technology—radio, palm print or otherwise—Keane balks, saying that issues of consumer demand should drive the use of such products, not government mandates.
Some of these measures sound great on the surface, but are less than viable in practice. Consider the sheer number of guns out there that don't have these technologies in place. Will said guns need to be retrofitted to allow for such technologies to be installed? Will said guns be permitted to operate without such technology? It's a concern for many, especially for current gun owners, who fear new legislation may end up as a kind of “gun grab,” forcing gun owners to buy new, possibly much more expensive guns to accommodate the law, and seeing older guns forcibly relinquished. Throw in the growth of 3D printers that can make guns in the home, and it's worth wondering who would even bother with something like an Armatix.
It's a difficult issue with a lot of opinion on both sides and plenty of established legal precedent to throw into the mix as well. The right to defend home and family from outside intrusion and the responsibility of every gun owner to ensure that no weapon is misused are often hard to resolve. Improving gun safety is everyone's responsibility, and technology may present the ultimate solution to this thorny issue.
Edited by Blaise McNamee