A newly released survey shows gun owners aren’t opposed to the idea of authorized user technology in firearms. But only 5 percent would be very likely to purchase one themselves due to their concerns about reliability and cost. About 70 percent said they were very or somewhat concerned about the reliability of the so-called “smart guns.”
Does This Sound Familiar? It should.
In 2013, NSSF hired a noted polling firm, McKeon and Associates, to field a national survey on authorized user technology to see what the general adult population knew about the technology, and what sort of demand may be seen in the marketplace for these still-hypothetical guns. The results showed that only 14 percent were very or somewhat likely to purchase a “smart gun.” When told that such firearms would incorporate biometric or radio frequency identification (RFID) with an activation system that would rely on battery power, 74 percent of respondents said that these firearms would not be reliable at all or very reliable. Only 16 percent thought “smart guns” would be very or somewhat reliable. Some 10 percent responded “don’t know.” Gun owners overwhelmingly (84%) believed a smart gun would not be reliable, while a clear majority (60%) of non-gun owners also believed they would not be reliable.
Of course the new report on survey, run out of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, makes no effort to hide the authors’ gun control agenda. They even include a note that smart guns are “of concern” because their advent may encourage non-gun owners to purchase firearms for the first time. Gun control advocates such as the Violence Policy Center have made this argument against authorized user technology in the past. The limitations discussion also admits that the price points asked about in the survey are “substantially lower than the current expected cost,” which “is likely to lead to the sample overestimating the desirability of personalized guns among current gun owners.” That issue, combined with the fact that an online survey tends to be answered by more technologically savvy individuals than a broader phone survey, means the 5 percent of gun owners “very likely” to purchase a smart gun overstates actual consumer demand for this sort of product should it ever actually come to market.
Gun makers are keenly aware of the market for their products, as any manufacturer must be in order to remain in business. In a recent shareholder report, Ruger stated, “Like many successful manufacturers of consumer products, our understanding and recognition of what consumers want has been critical to our growth. Over the years, we have interacted with and canvassed firearms consumers to learn what is important to them when selecting a firearm. This “voice of the customer” feedback has enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of consumer demand and the market generally. One thing we know for certain is that consumers demand reliable and durable firearms. We also know from experience that firearms are price sensitive and that a firearm that sells well at a particular price point may not sell at all for $100 more…There is very little interest in UAFs [smart guns] among firearms consumers…”
Another manufacturer, American Outdoor Brands Corporation, addressed consumer demand in a February 2019 shareholder report. According to the report, the company, “does not believe that current authorized user or ‘smart gun’ technology is reliable, commercially viable, or has any signiﬁcant consumer demand.”
Law Enforcement Standards
We know other surveys have been released in between the 2013 NSSF survey and the newly published poll. In 2016, a different survey out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health was briefly covered in a journal editorial. The limited results that were discussed in the opinion piece suggested a vast market for authorized user technology, and attempted to take issue with the design of the NSSF survey. One gun control group even co-hosted a “Smart Gun Symposium” in Seattle, Washington in 2015. Even during this carefully choreographed event, 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 a longstanding and understandable reluctance to adopt firearms so equipped that that may prevent officers from being able to discharge a firearm under duress or adverse conditions. The Fraternal Order of Police agrees that technology is unproven and unreliable: “Police officers in general, federal officers in particular, shouldn’t be asked to be the guinea pigs in evaluating a firearm that nobody’s even seen yet,” said James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “We have some very, very serious questions.” Even former president Obama’s Department of Justice couldn’t find a smart gun that met basic criteria for safe operation and instead released guidance on what factors such a firearm would have to meet.
As our own research showed, the skepticism extends beyond law enforcement to the larger gun owning community. Gun owners already store their firearms to prevent their access by those who should not have them. They follow safe handling and storage practices which are set forth in the owner’s manual provided with each firearm. 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. And, retailers are required by law to provide a locking device when they transfer a handgun and to make locking devices available for their customers to purchase.
Neither the industry nor NSSF have ever opposed the research and development of authorized-user recognition technology being applied to firearms. If an individual decides that an authorized user technology equipped firearm is the right choice for them, they should be free to purchase it. If “smart guns” do enter the marketplace, it should be consumer choice, not government mandates that drives their acceptance.
Elizabeth McGuigan is the Director of Legislative & Policy Research for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.