- There are an estimated 4.6 million children living in U.S. households with guns that are kept unlocked and loaded. (Huffington Post)
In 2016, 3,000 children were unintentionally shot, and 127 were killed in shootings, often with improperly stored guns.
- School shootings like the one in Sandy Hook involved minors taking guns belonging to adults.
- Thousands of guns are stolen every year and sold on the black market.
- Studies have shown that most of the guns used in criminal assault are not owned by the perpetrator. (Buzzfeed)
- A number of suicides are committed with guns that are owned by another person, sometimes a family member.
- More than 5 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty are shot with their own weapons.
Technology offers what is at least a partial answer for all of these problems. It’s called the smart gun and it’s smart because it can identify the owner of a weapon and prevent anyone else from firing it. A number of smart guns have been developed using different technologies including fingerprint scanners like we use to unlock our phones, PINs, radio frequency identification (RFID) and biometric sensors. There are also location guns that use geometric fencing to restrict the firing of a gun to a fixed geographic area. That would suit the gun owner who wants the gun for the purpose of protecting his or her home or place of business. Location technology could also alert a gun owner if a gun was removed from its proper location or restrict the firing of a gun in certain places, like schools or police stations.
Smart guns have been around for a couple decades. The location gun was invented in 1984. Yet most of the smart guns that have been designed and tested have never been produced commercially. A German smart gun exists that is sold in Europe. But there aren’t any smart guns on the store racks in the U.S. Why? Because of the gun lobby and specifically the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the millions of dollars it spends on lobbying and direct campaign contributions to lawmakers to dissuade them from any legislation that would regulate guns. The NRA spent $30 million to elect Trump and a report by CNN showed that all but six Republican members of Congress received money from the NRA. Eight of them got over a million dollars.
Why would the NRA not support safer guns? Why would they not want to see firearms that protect children and possibly reduce crime? Per their Web site, here is the official NRA statement: “The NRA doesn’t oppose the development of ‘‘smart’ guns, nor the ability of Americans to voluntarily acquire them. However, NRA opposes any law prohibiting Americans from acquiring or possessing firearms that don’t possess ‘smart’ gun technology.”
That statement is disingenuous because the NRA has fought against every attempt to research, manufacture or sell a smart gun. At one point the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson announced a initiative to research and develop smart guns. The NRA led a boycott of Smith & Wesson that impacted their business to the point of laying off 125 workers. Not surprisingly, the manufacturer abandoned that effort.
The State of New Jersey has been in the middle of this battle over smart guns. Back in 2002 the state enacted what was called the Childproof Handgun Law. The law stated that once “personalized handguns are available” anywhere in the U.S., all guns sold in New Jersey must be smart guns. This legislation seemed to confirm the argument of gun advocates that the availability of smart guns would lead to regulation that would restrict other guns. That of course led to a redoubling of the efforts by the NRA and others to keep smart guns off the market.
Newark-based New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) was one of the leaders in researching smart guns. They had developed a gun with an owner recognition system based on biometric sensors embedded in either the handle or trigger. Their scientists developed a viable offering, but no gun makers or sellers would touch it. Eventually funding dried up and NJIT closed down the unit.
This story, however, does not end here. There are any number of entrepreneurs prepared to disrupt the gun manufacturing industry, potential manufacturers who don’t have a legacy business that can be threatened or bullied. One such effort is a Philadelphia-based start-up LodeStar Firearms which plans to introduce next year a semi-automatic handgun with a user recognition lock. LodeStar is hoping to score a contract with a metropolitan police department and surely will be pointing out the statistics of how many cops get shot with their own guns.
And New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg, the originator of the Childproof Handgun Law, hasn’t given up either. She introduced a revised bill in 2015 that would simply have required gun sellers to offer one smart gun option. At the time New Jersey had a Republican governor Chris Christie who was hoping to be the party’s Presidential candidate in 2016. He vetoed the bill. Christie has since left office and been replaced by a progressive Democrat so another attempt is likely.
In the meantime, our President and Congress assure us that we will maintain the freedom to own a gun that isn’t secured in our home. A gun that one of our children could get his hands on and shoot himself with. A gun that could be stolen and used to rob the local convenience store,
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