By Larry Keane, National Shooting Sports Foundation
Recently, the Washington Technology Industry Association and the gun control group Washington Ceasefire co-hosted the Seattle International Smart Gun Symposium, which discussed the state of the firearm technology that attempts to limit operation to authorized users.
The event featured those working to develop the technology, gun control advocates, and legislators who have been proponents. Although the goal of the event was to take a “neutral stance on the issue and to provide an open forum for experts to make their case, pro or con,” to us, the deck appeared stacked.
Somewhat amusingly, the organizers of the event were unable to operate the projector, so speakers could not reference their presentations. This technical malfunction actually provides something of a metaphor for the state of smart gun technology itself. While the National Shooting Sports Foundation does not oppose the research and development of authorized user technology, we also firmly believes that mandates for it would be inappropriate and ill advised, no matter the level of reliability that may eventually be reached. This viewpoint was echoed by some participants during the forum. For example, Sheriff John Urquhart of Washington’s King County said that smart gun technology “is not ready for [his] officers yet. If it worked 110 percent of the time, [he’d] be interested.” Law enforcement has an understandable reluctance to adopt firearms so equipped that that may prevent officers from being able to discharge a firearm under duress or adverse conditions.
Alan Boinus, CEO of Allied Biometrix, explained how precarious this technology is and how it is not like other digital products that are quickly and easily produced. “We can’t afford a 404 error code. This is not something to monkey around with. This is a serious product and my company would rather be last to market and do it right, than to be first to market.”
While Washington State gun control activists may think they are ahead of the national curve by sponsoring this event, their leaders should learn from past examples of those who have previously ventured forward on this issue.
Case in point, New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who spoke at the Seattle event, now says that she wants to repeal the smart gun mandate law she authored in 2002. She has concluded that the one-size-fits-all prescriptive legislation has proved counterproductive.
During the forum, the results of a public opinion survey done for Washington Cease Fire by a polling firm with known Democratic ties was released showing that 58 percent of non-gun owners and 38 percent of gun owners believed that all firearms sold should be mandated by law to be smart guns. Our own NSSF commissioned public opinion research went into more depth and explained to those surveyed that such technology would require use of a battery in the firearm. We received a nearly identical response from non-gun owners, with 57 percent of these respondents saying they would favor a mandate. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, when provided this additional information, 79 percent of those owning or in a household owning a firearm said they would oppose a mandate.
Put another way, the more knowledgeable the individual is about firearms and what’s involved to make authorized user technology work, the less credence they put in safe-gun gadgetry for its own sake. As our own research showed, most gun owners are going to be very skeptical. They already store their firearms to prevent their access by those who should not have them. They follow safe handling and storage practices. They don’t see a panacea in smart gun technology, nor should proponents or policy makers.
There are highly reliable ways to prevent unauthorized access to firearms ranging from locks provided by manufacturers with new firearms purchases and cable-style gun locks by NSSF through Project ChildSafe to various types of lock boxes, secure cabinets and safes. If an individual decides that an authorized user technology equipped firearm is the right choice for them, they should be free to purchase it. Is this the proverbial better mousetrap? Let the marketplace decide.