Smart Guns, the NRA, and What We Really Can Agree On

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I saw this article yesterday about how an 18-year-old may have created the “world’s Capturesafest gun” and it struck me as particularly strange.  Basically, Kai Kloepfer is developing a gun with “an advanced fingerprint sensor that’s outfitted on the grip of a gun.”  It scans the user’s fingerprint and won’t fire unless there is a match to the owner of the gun.

There are two reasons why this article was odd to me.  First, and I don’t want to take any credit away from Kloepfer who is obviously a very smart and dedicated inventor, but this idea isn’t at all new.  “Smart Guns,” as they are known, have been in development since the late 90s.  This is a new twist as others have used radio technology, magnetic spectrum tags, etc. but the concept is very similar; link the gun to a particular person somehow and only allow it to fire if that person is holding it.

Much more strange, though, was the opening of the article:

To say that gun control is a complex topic in American culture is a massive understatement, but there’s one point we can probably all agree on: Fatal accidents involving firearms are heartbreaking tragedies and any measure we can take to try to reduce or eliminate them is something we as a society need to consider. That said, 18 year-old Kai Kloepfer has a plan that could help end them for good.

Sadly this is not a point we can “probably all agree on.”  The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been fighting smart gun technology since the beginning.  Some doubt the reliability of the technology.  Would it really work in an emergency… and what if it fails?  However, the objection from the NRA appears to be much broader than the reliability issue.  To quote the NRA-Institute for Legislative Action:

NRA does not oppose new technological developments in firearms; however, we are opposed to government mandates that require the use of expensive, unreliable features, such as grips that would read your fingerprints before the gun will fire.  And NRA recognizes that the “smart guns” issue clearly has the potential to mesh with the anti-gunner’s agenda, opening the door to a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology.

In other words, the development of such guns might lead to laws that regulate the sale of guns and they won’t stand for that.  They’re worried about the slippery slope that might lead up to the slippery slope.

In fact, Katie Trumbly of Highbrow Magazine argues that the NRA is actively working to prevent the sale of smart guns because of a particular law in New Jersey (New Jersey Law S1223).  The law has been on the books since 2002 and “would require all handguns sold in New Jersey to be childproofed within three years of the state Attorney General determining that childproof handguns are available for the consumer market.”  In other words, within three years of smart guns becoming available for sale in the U.S., only smart guns could legally be sold in New Jersey.  Trumbly suggests that the NRA is actively working to suppress the development of smart gun technology and sale of smart guns to prevent this law from taking effect.

To get back to my original point, we need to be honest about goals and what we can agree on.  We can’t grant the premise that the NRA actually cares about reducing fatal accidents involving firearms.  We simply have no evidence for that.  And even if they do care, the evidence we have clearly tells us that they don’t care nearly as much about safety as they do suppressing gun regulation.

By Ryan Martin