Although it might sound like a futuristic concept, smart guns have been around for a while. In 2015, Popular Science published an article titled How Guns Got Smarter detailing the evolution of “smart” systems to prevent unauthorized firearms use. For example, in 1886, Smith & Wesson produced a childproof gun that required pulling the trigger with a lever at the same time. That was just the beginning.
According to the article, the Magna-Trigger gun, launched in 1974, was the first time technology was used to control who fires the gun. The gun wouldn’t fire unless the person holding the gun was wearing a magnetic ring. However, magnets weren’t all that smart compared to radio frequency. As RF technology advanced, some manufacturers tried to incorporate RFID chips into their firearms.
In 1998, the first RFID smart gun was launched by Colt. Owners of this gun had to wear a special wristband that communicated with the RFID chip in the gun, allowing it to fire. If the gun was too far from the wristband, it wouldn’t fire.
Since Colt’s first RFID chip smart gun, other manufacturers have tried to make similar mechanisms, improving slightly on the design and operation each time. For example, iGun made an RFID gun in 2001 (it flopped), and in 2014, German firearms maker Armatix produced a .22 -caliber pistol that required the user to wear a special watch. However, this design flopped as well.
Why smart guns fail – it’s not what you think
You might think smart guns fail to catch on because the mechanisms are flawed. While flaws are certainly a possibility, smart guns have mostly failed because of consumer pushback. Responsible gun owners want pistols that don’t make shooting complicated.
Second amendment groups have historically rejected and fought against smart guns, which has caused dealers to stop carrying them along with boycotts. For example, when Colt and Smith & Wesson got on board with creating a government-sponsored smart gun in 2000, gun owners boycotted both manufacturers.
Gun owners object to smart guns because they believe the technology will lead to stricter gun laws, which will end up limiting second amendment rights. They have a good point. If smart guns are accepted, there could come a time when all guns are required to be “smart.”
With smart gun mandates, it would be much harder to conduct legal private sales, shoot a friend’s gun, or defend yourself in your home when you’re not the gun’s registered owner. Worse, with wireless technology, the government could cut off access to a person’s firearm for any reason.
Smart guns are supposed to increase security and safety
The idea behind smart guns is to limit who can fire the weapon to the owner. This would, in theory, prevent people from stealing guns to use in crimes like mass shootings. The idea seems sound, but is deeply flawed. For instance, an ethical hacker was able to use simple magnets to fire the Armatix iP1 pistol. He was also able to use frequency to jam the pistol.
The fact that a smart gun can be hacked with magnets is concerning. While a hacked or jammed gun can be an inconvenience at the range, in a life-threatening situation, a hacked or jammed gun could prevent a person from defending themselves or their family. And what if you forget to change the batteries? [Smart guns] require batteries to function. It seems like owning a smart gun would only be a complication.
There’s a reason smart guns aren’t the standard (yet)
Although there is a big push from the Biden Administration to require all guns to be smart guns, they’re not the standard and probably won’t be for a while. The technology exists, but the demand is absent. Since firearms enthusiasts haven’t been keen on the idea of smart guns, and the NRA isn’t afraid to push back, [smart guns] aren’t anywhere near being mass produced. If the market isn’t there, it’s not going to bring in profits and there’s no point.
Are guns safe without being “smart?”
The truth is, a gun by itself is neither safe nor unsafe; the safety of a firearm depends on its owner. Owners who leave their firearms lying around the house for their children to find are creating an unsafe situation. However, having a smart gun wouldn’t give people a good reason to leave their guns lying around. Kids are smart and could probably find a way to hack a smart gun if they were determined.
For now, gun owners will need to rely on basic safety protocols and common sense to secure their firearms. [Smart guns] are a good idea, but they won’t become the standard for quite some time.
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