Lamenting The Lack Of “Smart” Guns

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Meghan Neal at Vice.com laments the fact that nobody appears interested in buying so-called “smart guns”. Her theory is that consumers want to own “smart guns” but the industry has no interest in selling them. She believes they will save lives (a strange policy for a website that is dedicated to, and engages in, incredibly unsafe behavior). She wrote …

The problem is getting anyone to buy them. A group called Safe Gun Technology developed a functioning prototype of biometric fingerprint recognition technology in 2008, and recently tried to crowdfund the money to build a market-ready version. The Indiegogo campaign fell $48,000 short of its fundraising goal.

Robert McNamara, cofounder of TriggerSmart, a startup that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to match owner and gun, has tried to convince the gun manufacturers to license the product, but none have agreed. If the gun industry won’t budge, it could take a government mandate to get people to buy personalized guns.

I disagree. Ruger, S&W, Colt and others would gladly take you money in exchange for a smart gun. Nothing Ruger sells today is all that different to what was sold 100 years ago, and everything they sell will easily last 100+ years if properly maintained. The gun industry NEEDS genuine innovations as well as gimmicks and fads in order to survive. Guns packing electronics would do wonders for the bottom line of gun companies IF consumers were willing to buy them. But they are not. Putting software into a gun is as insane as putting software locks onto a pair of scissors, pruning shears or a chainsaw. Many consumers go out of their way to avoid simple mechanical locks on their guns because they are unreliable (and therefor unsafe). I wonder if Mr. Robert McNamara would be willing to accept legal liability if the software on his guns failed to work correctly and a person was injured or killed by an intruder. I am 100% sure he would not.

Now excuse me while I go and patent my electronic-locks-on-scissors idea. I feel the education and child-care industry is in desperate need of this technology, they just don’t realize it yet.

Many thanks to WhaleOil for the tip.




Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Mark

    To second the author, my first thought was wrongful death lawsuit against xyz gun manufacturer.

    • JT

      Correct. The only exception to the manufacturer protection is a death due to defect IIRC. There are enough anti-gun lawyers already to ensure free council and probably every cent the manufactuer makes to the defendent(s)

  • Ben 10

    smart guns are a stupid idea, if a criminal wanted to use your smart gun, he would kill you then your finger or hand or fingerprints to make the gun operable. every watched a movie where the crook gouged out the eye of some guy to gain access to a room with biometric security?

    • Rapax

      Because that’s so much easier and less effort than getting a gun without a lock. Movies teach people to think up overly convoluted schemes.

    • Samuel Suggs

      hmm well theirs life sensors but they make systems about half as reliable because they miss read you as dead this will only result in less freedom and less saftey for the user ignore it and pray it goes away if it dosent you will have to fight it in the courts

    • Cymond

      I agree that “smart” guns are dumb, but I really don’t think any criminal is going to carry around a severed finger. And how hard would it be to get it lined up?

      Also, I think that “eye gouging” thing is pure Hollywood.

    • Chrome Dragon

      Fun fact: The people who build fingerprint scanners already implement “severed finger rejection” technology.

      The More You Know!™

  • Bull

    its not the problem with the electronic/gun fusion. the problem is that the gun become dependent on the electronics.
    you could argue that red dot sights are “electronics” and those are quite plentiful after all.

    • gunslinger

      yes a red dot is an electronic. but if the battery dies, or the thing breaks, the gun will still go bang when you pull the trigger. people are worried that if there is a glitch in the software, battery dies, your fingerprint becomes damaged, you can’t find the rfid key ring…your gun does not go bang when you pull the trigger.

      • Samuel Suggs

        thats what he said, it just wasnt very clear

  • JT

    It will probably become reliable one day, but I’d rather the europeans do the beta testing. They shouldn’t have to as I don’t think the technology adds anything to the performance of the gun or solves any problem that couldn’t be handled other ways. It doesn’t prevent someone from getting a gun from somewhere. It doesn’t teach kids firearms safety. It doesn’t talk a person out of comitting suicide or shooting another person. And it certainly does not teach adults firearms safety either

  • sianmink

    People will want smartguns when they are 100% reliable. Until then, hell no.

    • Ian

      Crazyglue your hand to the weapon. Problem solved.

    • Samuel Suggs

      they never will be! and even if it magically dous you will stil have to worry about not being able to compelte the prooper manipulation of the weapon. for example thase stupid ring and wrist watch operated smart guns what if you have to use your othe hand? then what, it just adds to the problem and fails to create a solution

      • Chrome Dragon

        Microsoft’s working on piggybacking data on the body’s electromagnetic field. You could put the transponder on a *toe ring*, and it’d still work using their ‘body bus’ technology.

        • Samuel Suggs

          Ah Chrome Dragon allways coming in on the end of a discussion and adding some odd technical detail that adds to the discussion but only after that discussion is largly over. yes their are longer range trasmitters this is not new and using human skin as a data bus will only increse dependbility issues that make “smart” gun technology far from worth the trouble my half drunken rambilings above aside I dont see how another incovient attempt at whereable computing that wont sell well becuase its scary to the mindless smartphone to have theur skin used for such things is applicable to this discussion unless you provide some hypothetical aplliction within your comment other then “could be used for dah smart gun”

    • Cymond

      What if I’m not home and my wife needs my gun? What about when I take a friend to the shooting range? I can think of plenty of reasons why people would not want a “smart” gun, even if it never failed.

      • sianmink

        It would need to have an ‘unsecured’ mode that can be set by an authorized user, or ‘guest passes’ if it’s biometric.

    • John184

      Nothing is 100% reliable, especially new technologies. I for one, would be willing to use this. Not for a gun that I’d trust my life with, but for most of them.

  • bbmg

    You can have all the smart guns you like, it’s people that are stupid. Besides, how widespread is the issue, what are the statistics?

    As with most things, don’t look at emotional appeals, just look at the numbers. How many people are actually shot with their own personal firearm by someone else? If it’s say 50 people per year across the US, well then there are other things we should be focusing on.

    More than twice that amount of people die in the US alone yearly crashing into deer, it would save more lives to fit cars with deer recognition and avoidance systems.

    • Samuel Suggs

      their are staistics however they are lies as per usual

  • Ryan

    This is what I think of whenever I hear “Smart Gun”

  • Ko I

    There will never be a point where a gun with this technology is as reliable as one without it. As such, it will never catch on. It’s an abortion waiting to happen.

  • Gidge

    What the authors fail to mention is that several mainstream manufacturers tried to develop smart guns and lost a fortune in the process. Law enforcement agencies and defensive the civilian market would love a smart gun that could only be fired by authorized users IF YOU CAN GUARANTEE 100% RELIABILITY!!!

    If the shooter is in a life or death situation and the gun doesn’t fire because they grabbed it a little bit differently or the battery died then that’s a deal breaker. A single malfunction will get the owner killed.

  • Alex Nicolin

    Remember what the last Robert McNamara got you into, once there was a government mandate? ;)

  • PatrickPM

    I remember seeing something like this on the history channel a ways back. They were claiming at the time that most police officers were shot with their own firearms and that this system, a coded bracelet and smart gun, was the future

    • Man pippy

      Of course you’d need bracelets on both hands otherwise if you needed to switch hands the gun won’t work.

    • Ben 10

      a kabar tdi would be better for preventing the officer-shot-with-his-own-gun problem than this smart gun nonsense.

  • Tech

    I would love to have a smart gun. However it would never be a carry weapon, and it would be more because they are really cool and geeky – especially when they work.

  • Amish_rabbi

    I think having the technology fail to recieve enough crowd funding is pretty good proof that consumers dont want it, not that manufacturers dont

  • dan citizen

    San Jose Ca. tried the smart gun with a ring to activate it in 2001. They issued one prototype to a senior officer and then decided to show it off with a media event surrounding a drunk guy who wanted a free doughnut. The media showed, the officer showed, he made a little speech about his smart gun and showed the drunk his ring, whereupon the drunk yanked the ill fitting ring off the officers hand and threw it in the bushes. Several officers then fired, missing the officer and drunk, breaking the coffee shop window. The drunk was arrested, the reporter talked out of his video, and the “smart gun” shelved. I saw the video at a CHP training course on weapon retention.

    • Anonymoose

      We’ll probably get smartguns when cybernetic prostheses become more widespread. No one will be able to steal your gun if it’s built into your arm.

      • Chrome Dragon

        Or when our guns are built around digital brain-linked fire control systems. If you’ve got the CPU horsepower for that, you can authenticate that the gun’s plugged into the right person’s brain implant with a 512 bit RSA key quickly, easily, and reliably.

    • Samuel Suggs

      Wait that actually happened holy crap I thought that was to good to be true!

    • Anonymous

      Do you have any citations for the San Jose story, or any idea how we can find more information on that?

  • nobody

    All these morons will do is get all handguns not featuring this technology banned in New Jersey and Germany (and California soon after). Smart guns are like ak pistols in 5.45×39, anyone trying to market one should step in front of a train and rid the world of their stupidity.

    • Samuel Suggs

      Agreed

  • TCBA_Joe

    What se doesn’t get is that “The Industry” is made up almost entirely of consumers. Almost everyone I know in the gun industry from the presidents to the guy who sweeps that bathrooms are gun geeks. It’s not a nebulous industry where they push stuff they have little intetrest in.

    On top of that, smart guns sound great to the idiot-informed. However i could see a day where the government regulates the software and access of smart guns as well. Updates taht shut down the terrorist watchlist, so even if someone buys a gun legally they can’t get access to it. Under investigation? No access to you even if legally allowed to handle the gun. Civil unrest? Turn off all guns in the the area. indefintely.

    What sounds like a car key to some sounds like a killswitchto others.

    • Anonymoose

      War…war has changed…etc, etc.

      Also, Cerberus for sure and probably some of the other larger manufacturers are not headed by consumers and “gun geeks.” Sure they want their hunting guns (who needs EDC or HD when you have a private security team and bodyguards?), but they’ll probably buy a 500k engraved, gold-inlaid European O/U before even glancing at some Tacticool Zombie-Killer 9000 that their own company made.

      • Samuel Suggs

        So they hire other people to use guns to protect them, so what as long as they still fight gun regulation then we support them period. They will probably sell ammo to us when we need it most despite regulation if their track record is any indication so get over the big biz and rich bashing and buy a box of Barnes bullets because the conglomerates aren’t going anywhere thankfully

  • michael

    I don’t want one regardless

  • Sparky112

    While I agree that there isn’t any effective “Safe Gun” technology currently on the market, it’s not quite accurate for the author to say that this is evidence for consumers’ lack of interest in smart guns. That’s a little like saying, “consumers are obviously uninterested in cars that are self-driving, because they are not buying them.” While it’s possible that people are not interested in this technology, it’s also possible that people aren’t buying them simply because the technology doesn’t exist yet in widely-available consumer products.

    Also, I am not convinced by the argument that because a single crowd-sourced prototype failed to get funded, that means that all solutions of that type are therefore not
    financially viable. What about the people who had never heard of that project (I certainly hadn’t), or the people who don’t have the time or interest to research crowdsourcing projects? While people like those did not fund the project, it doesn’t mean they would necessarily be uninterested in funding it, nor does it mean that they would be uninterested in buying a finished product that actually does what the prototype’s makers say it will.

    Finally, the argument of 100% effectiveness, and the threat of lawsuits, are both red herrings. Do existing guns work 100% of the time? No. What about cars, or cell phones, or anything else that cops, and civilians, rely on to protect themselves every day? Clearly not, but we all still use them. When one of those things fails, and someone gets hurt or dies as a result, do people get sued? Absolutely. Nothing will ever work 100% of the time, and there will always be lawsuits when things fail, so using these as reasons why we shouldn’t even investigate a technology just doesn’t make sense.

    Smart gun technology may actually be a bad idea. It’s possible it’ll never work, or the costs would be too high versus its effectiveness. But we can’t just dismiss it using substandard arguments – that makes us look weak, and opens us up to criticism from anti-gunners. It’s better to, instead, address these issues head-on and make clear, convincing points from the get-go.

    • RocketScientist

      The whole ‘reliability’ argument is NOT a ‘substandard’ argument. For handguns in particular, reliability is one of the most significant factors to many users. Police/military stake their lives on these devices on a regular basis. Those who use a handgun for personal defense do so as well, although usually much less often. In either case, insane levels of reliability are expected and considered the norm. spent time on any firearms forum, and you see the amount of time people devote to discussing reliability, and many people will refuse to carry a gun in a duty/CCW role if it shows ANY failures in several thousand rounds of shooting. Of course no gun will ever be 100% reliable. But many people expect their guns to be 99.9% reliable or 99.99% reliable. I can assure you there are no electronic interlock/biometric devices out there capable of that level of reliability that cost less than that of the gun they are supposed to be mounted on. I work in the aerospace/defense industry and test delicate electronics packages to MIL-STD 810 among other things. A subset of this is ‘gunfire shock’. The cost of the simplest electronic components can easily increase by a factor of 10 or more when they are required to withstand these types of environments and work with a high level of reliability.

    • Samuel Suggs

      I am a fan of bombastic statements myself however I have to admit that you made your point rather well even though I still believe that the potential for the political abuse of this technology outweighs any practical potential it may have!

  • J

    The Armatix iP1 is a very attractive smart pistol, but the first thing I would do if I bought one is disable the circuitry. No one wants smart guns… you drop that Intelligun in mud when you need it and you’re dead.

    • Chrome Dragon

      If your CCW piece is a 10-round .22, you’re an odd one.

      No, if you’re planning on carrying an iP1, it’s because you have a very specific need for the smart interlock and the budget to support that.

  • jamezb

    The really stupid part of this idea is it fails to take into account the …hundred million..(?) “dumb” guns already in circulation. Do the smart gun advocates expect us to hand them over? Ha! Good luck with that.

    • Samuel Suggs

      hundred million lol

      • jamezb

        Ok, Ok, you got me Sam.
        The estimated total number of guns held by civilians in the United States is 270,000,000 to 310,000,000 .
        This tells me I need more guns.

        • Samuel Suggs

          me to cause that number is also a seriouse low ball

          • jamezb

            What would be your guesstimate, and can you break it into pre-GCA 68 and post 68?

          • Samuel Suggs

            there is no guestimate all that stastic takes into account only domestically produced guns and post 86 imports

          • jamezb

            I wish all those forgotten guns would come live at my house. I would hug them and oil them and shoot them on weekends even if they are rare antiques. :)

  • Jeremy Star

    I say this every time the concept of “smart guns” comes up:

    I worked at a government contractor in the defense industry. We had super expensive biometric thumb-drives. They worked maybe 50% of the time. If you got locked out, you lost all of the classified data you were transporting on it. They sucked, everyone hated them.

    Now put that on a firearm. You cannot defend yourself because your fancy biometric “smart gun” can’t read your fingerprint. And now you’re dead.

    Not really hard to see why nobody wants these unless you are willfully ignorant.

  • Samuel Suggs

    how long after they gained somthing the media could spin into “market exceptance” that being ten people bought them and made YouTube videos untill they started to try and legislate this crap a comapny might even lobby for it like those animals did in germany regect this or sufffer the conseqence nowone wins except the people that make these inferior weapons. also please stop bringing Vice crap to my attention their propagandists who pretend to be reasonable

    • RocketScientist

      Dude… I hate to be ‘that guy’ but your posts are painful to read. Please take 30 seconds to spell-check your posts. And take some time to use a little punctuation. Periods, commas, and question marks break your sentences up into phrases that make them easier to read/comprehend, and allow people to know when a sentence has ended and another has begun. I know this is an internet blog and formal writing rules don;t exactly apply, and I’m not trying to be a d**k, but even though you usually have interesting things to say, its to the point where I skip your replies because they are so poorly constructed. Here’s an example of how you could improve:

      somthing => something
      exceptance => acceptance
      regect => reject
      conseqence => consequence
      nowone => noone/no-one/no one (depending who you ask)
      their => they’re

      Also notice how much nicer punctuation makes things to read:

      “How long after they gained something the media could spin into “market acceptance” (that being ten people bought them and made YouTube videos) until they started to try and legislate this crap? A comapny might even lobby for it like those animals did in Germany. Reject this or sufffer the consequence. No one wins except the people that make these inferior weapons. Also please stop bringing Vice crap to my attention, they’re propagandists who pretend to be reasonable.”

      See how much nicer that is? You have interesting points very often, don’t make it easy for people to discount them by dismissing you as an idiot. Please don’t take this as a personal attack, it’s not meant to be one. Just a bit of kind advice.

      • Samuel Suggs

        Wow, thanks for taking the time to be polite and to explain exactly what I was doing wrong. I will gladly take these recommendations under advisement in my future post’s.

  • Samuel Suggs

    please stop reporting on this crap giving it attention only increases its political pull

  • MOG

    Time better spent lamenting lack of smart politicians. Yes, I know, smart and politician do not belong in same sentence. How dumb can they be? We elected them. I just threw in the gig, because of the….. “If the gun industry won’t budge, it could take a government mandate to get people to buy personalized guns”. (What could go wrong)?

    • Samuel Suggs

      Well I am inclined to believe that such a blatant attack on the 2nd amendment would spur people in the right direction but it would certainly go wrong for the politicians in qestion

  • Brandon

    I like Vice, but they’re way off on this.

    If it could be reliably done at a reasonable cost, law enforcement would be all over it.

  • greensoup

    I worked in mobile technology for about a decade. A real smart gun would probably would eat any gun company’s R&D budget for a long long long long long long long long long time. Fingerprint recognition technology in 2008 was HORRIBLE, so bad that even suggestion of the concept was moronic. I’m not sure what kind of engineering they were going to get when they were concerned with a completely insignificant $48,000, was it $48,000 short of $10,000,000. Something tells me no.

  • BryanS

    To Quote SayUncle… is gun, is not safe.

  • Lance

    Electronics are never 100% reliable so no one wants one when cops and solders have them we can argue then.

  • Chrome Dragon

    I want a smartgun. It should be smart enough to tell how many rounds are in the magazine, and if the chamber is loaded. The front sight post is illuminated by a RGB LED based on that information. Blue: Full mag. Green: Mostly full. Yellow: Tactical reload is prudent. Red: Your magazine is empty, and this is your last bullet.

    Authentication might be nice to have, but it’s really a secondary feature. If these guys make a gun safer and easier to use, they’ve got a selling point.

  • David Sharpe

    Yeah….I’m taking 2+ friends to the range within the next week or two, why would I want to waste time in order to program them in? How about people store their guns properly, then they won’t get stolen.

  • Aaron E

    Line from Blackhawk Down … “this is my safety” (manipulating trigger finger). Although the technology is interesting, this concept does nothing to make the firearm perform better. That is what most gun buyers are interested in, not a gadget that creates a very real addition that can fail, rendering the firearm useless.

    These “safe” gadgets are also one of the most popular tactics of anti-gun groups to increase firearm prices into oblivion reducing the amount of guns bought.

    “If the gun industry won’t budge, it could take a government mandate to get people to buy personalized guns.”

    And there is the real goal of Ms. Neal and the anti’s – Government infringement!

  • Hunter57dor

    i work in IT.
    people don’t want computers on their guns. I don’t want a computer on my gun.

    computers suck in reliability compared to any other device on the planet. it is just too damn easy for power to run out, data connections to be broken, fragile computational hardware to wear out, etc.

    how would you like to have to replace components on your fancy smart gun every 2 years or less?

    we get 3 years on a server in a temperature controlled, enclosed environment. how is your smart chip going to handle recoil forces, drops, dirt, moisture, extreme cold, and other general owner abuse?

    NOT a good idea.

    now, if you want something independent of the weapons operating systems, that’s fine. but i want my guns going bang when i pull that trigger.

  • FriendlyFire

    I do believe that a child picking up a gun and blowing their sister or brothers head off is the reasoning behind “smart guns” , by adding another level of safety for children. This site has more info – http://www.smartguns.com

    • gunslinger

      not to sound insensitive, but aren’t more children lost to auto accidents or abuse? From the 2007 US Child Mortality rates, 14% were lost due to unintentional injury (not including homicide because someone else is using the gun). That is of the 11,560 child deaths, only 138 were by firearms (0.2% total from 53k). Auto accidents make up wouldn’t it make more sense to make smart cars (6,683, 8.1%)?

      while i can appreciate the “save the kids” shouldn’t we fix the larger problem?

      • FriendlyFire

        How do we tackle the “larger problem” when we can’t seem to get round the smaller problems? These stats are enough in my eyes for something to be done – http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/protect-children-not-guns-2013.pdf

        • gunslinger

          well, from that, it still states that cars are #1. and besides that, they lump in homicide as well. i’ll buy that suicide (another 668) could be prevented if the kid couldn’t fire someone elses gun. but that still is very small compared to car deaths.

          i will say, it takes courage to stand up for this. and i will still say that if we want to feel better about protecting our children, we fix the largest issue for the largest return.

  • Waltzin Matilda

    The wonam is clueless…

    Suppose I am confronted with an emergency, and the nearest guy is my husbands?

    I’m dead.

    Waltzin Matilda