Last year marked the first time in almost a century where more Americans died from firearms than from car accidents. Innovative technology, such as electronic stability controls that reduce the likelihood of deadly rollovers, along with a shift in the national dialogue on drunk driving, deserves much of the credit for the approximately 50% reduction in auto fatalities per mile driven, over the past thirty years. New, rapidly evolving “smart gun” technology can potentially have a similar effect on the over 100,000 annual firearm injuries and fatalities in the United States.
Smart guns are firearms that can only be operated by an authorized user by employing a variety of technologies, including biometrics identification that read the shape and force-grip of one’s palm, and an RFID digital handshake involving the close proximity of an enabling computer chip.
It would seem that smart guns could have the greatest life saving impact in the areas of firearm accidents by children and suicides with a gun. Two million children in the United States live in homes with unlocked guns; a major contributing factor to the over ten thousand children and teens in this country who every year go to emergency rooms due to gunshot wounds, according to Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics). Significantly, for children under the age of ten, 75% of injuries are accidental. In addition, 9,500 Americans commit suicide every year with a firearm they do not own. Those deaths are not inevitable as research clearly shows that suicide is generally impulsive and can be deterred if a weapon is not readily available
Recent research by Penn, Schoen & Berland showed that 40% of gun owners would consider swapping to smart guns. The results inversely skew with age as 54% of gun owners 45 and under would consider swapping to a smart gun. Additionally, more than 4 out of 5 gun owners believe gun dealers should be able to sell smart guns. Gun rights groups are officially neutral on smart guns, though openly skeptical about the technology and ulterior government motives.
At the center of the smart gun debate is New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, whose well-meaning 2002 legislation the New Jersey Childproof Handgun Law has had a profound effect on the issue. The law mandates that once smart gun technology firearms become commercially available anywhere in the United States, all handguns sold in New Jersey after a three-year period must be smart guns. Presently, smart guns are nowhere to be found in this country even though the German made Armatix iP1 handgun has been available worldwide since 2014.
In January of this year, Washington Ceasefire, a 32-year old gun safety organization co-sponsored The Seattle International Smart Gun Symposium with The Washington Technology and Industry Association. The event was the firstof its kind dedicated to the issue and attracted a wide swath of stakeholders from across the country and Europe, including Senator Weinberg. Time and again, smart gun developers spoke at the conference of the need to repeal the New Jersey mandate. They were in unison in their insistence that despite the promise of a new multi-billion dollar smart gun industry, potential investors seem hesitant to wade into the political minefield created by the mandate. Indeed, most of the fledgling smart gun start-ups are on life support waiting for additional funding.
Last year, two gun dealers attempted to sell the Armatix iP1, only to receive death threats from gun extremists. Many at the time believed the NRA orchestrated the threats and the two intrepid dealers were concerned that their supply of traditional gun would be choked off as well. There is reason to believe that the NRA was not behind the protests and was similarly caught off-guard by the criminal actions. Yet, gun rights groups have not taken the necessary step to condemn the rogue activities.
Prohibition mandates not only don’t work, they can create bigger problems. Imagine the repercussions if the government mandated that all cigarettes must be e-cigarettes or all automobiles must be electrically powered. This is a case where we need to let the free market decide. Given the scope of the market opportunity, repealing the mandate will free necessary investment that will enhance the technology to the point where any reasonable person will be able to trust it.
An America void of guns does not exist and never will. The next best thing then is to have guns that will not operate in the wrong hands; smart guns that children and teens can’t operate, smart guns that will not fire if stolen or taken out of a policeman’s hands by a criminal, and smart guns that can’t be used by violent partners or the suicidal. The free market offers a powerful answer to one of our nation’s most intractable public health issues. Let’s keep politics out of it and repeal the New Jersey Childproof Handgun Law this year.
Board President Washington Ceasefire