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Posted by on Dec 26, 2012 in Featured, Law, Science & Technology, Society | 29 comments

Smart Gun Technology – Expanding The Gun Violence Discussion

Looking at the recent tragedies in New York, the murder of the firefighters, and Newtown, the murder of children and teachers, there is a common thread. That common thread expands beyond mass murder to the gun violence arenas of accidental shootings and criminal use of firearms. The common thread is that the weapons in New York and Connecticut were not legally purchased by the end user. The New York shooter was a convicted felon who could not have legally purchased a firearm. At Sandy Hook Elementary the shooter used guns purchased legally by a relative, his now dead mother, but not legally purchased by him.

Transfer of possession of firearms is one of the great loopholes in the background check system. No matter how many criminals and/or violently mental ill persons one prevents from making a legal initial purchase, subsequent transfer of possession is largely uncontrolled. These subsequent transfers include, probably not naming them all, gifting guns to friends and family, access to guns by other household members (Lanza), selling guns to third parties, including stranger to stranger as informally as yard or garage sales, having guns stolen in burglaries and personal robberies and losing a firearm only to have it found by a stranger.

Years ago a very specific problem arose that continues to this day. It came to the attention of the authorities that many shootings of police officers happened when criminals, during a struggle or by guile, managed to gain possession of an officer’s weapon and shot him/her with his/her own weapon. It is estimated today that 40% of NYPD officers who are shot are the victims of bullets fired from their own guns.

More than two decades ago, technology began to explore solutions to the law officer problem by beginning to develop “smart guns”. These are guns that can only be fired by recognized persons. The technology was encouraged during the 1990’s, but funding dried up after the Clinton administration. Today, researchers into this technology are working without sufficient funding and often with computer chips as much as ten years old. The research and development does continue to some extent outside the United States.

Technologies include at least the following that have existing working prototypes. Fingerprint identification requires thumbprint recognition to activate a firearm. Magnetic ring technology, trade name Magna Trigger, requires the user to wear a magnetic ring to fire the weapon. This is available as an after-market retrofit but is not available through any manufacturer of firearms. RFID technology uses radio frequency identification through radio chips that send and receive radio signals to activate a firearm. One trade name associated with RFID is Trigger Smart of Ireland. After-market is available for this technology, but again no manufacturer offers it on their firearms. RFID after-market kits cost about $50 to produce and are complicated to retrofit. If added to original manufacture the cost and complexity would both be significantly reduced. Dynamic grip recognition uses biometrics to recognize the unique grip of an authorized user. Development of this technology is currently stalled due to lack of funding.

Why is this safer gun technology not being pursued? Largely because of resistance from the NRA and gun manufacturers. To paraphrase the author of an article on the subject for Computerworld online , there is no interest on the part of manufacturers. Or, to quote Joe Dowling, General Manager of Georgia Tech Ireland, developer of Trigger Smart,

“There’s quite a bit of resistance from the gun industry in the U.S. to the technology.”

Lucas Mearian, the author of the Computerworld piece summed it up this way,

“One problem, proponents say, is perspective. Gun enthusiasts and organizations such as the National Rifle Association may view smart gun technology as gun control instead of gun safety.”

So far, smart gun technology has been largely limited to authorized user shooting, but it can be even more effective. First, it should not be simply “authorized users.” It should be restricted to lawful purchasers. That makes background checks truly useful. Friends, family members and strangers, any of whom might not pass a background check, would be prevented from using such a firearm. Upon private sale, the guns would have to be recalibrated to a new authorized user. This likely would be done by a licensed technician requiring a background check as part of a private firearms transaction.

Remember that piece I did last week where I talked about nine ideas for gun control ? One was repealing the gun manufacturer liability shield law. If manufacturers faced liability, might they not be more interested in R & D for safe gun technology? I think so.

But, we need not stop at user recognition technology. Here are some other technologies to consider.

Technology could easily create a mechanism to return a gun’s safety to the locked position after a set amount of time, say 30 seconds. Any deer will be long gone after 30 seconds. Such an auto-safety engaging mechanism will help prevent accidental gun death and injury, but will also restrict how long a would be mass killer can use one gun.

Another idea might be a firing delay that restricts firing to say two rounds per second. Folks could still have semi-automatic weapons that fired without manual cocking, but the frequency of firing would be restricted by technological advances in gun safety.

There would, of course, be resistance. There was resistance to wearing seatbelts. There was a time when construction workers didn’t wear hard hats. That there would be resistance is not an excuse for inaction. Nor is it an excuse that it would take a generation to have new safer guns become the majority of guns owned. This happened with cars too. Only over time did safer cars replace unsafe cars as the unsafe cars found their way to junk yards. That this is a longer range view or that it will face resistance should not stop us from at least considering the possibilities that technology offers in combination with other solutions to gun violence.

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  • EEllis

    Years ago a very specific problem arose that continues to this day. It came to the attention of the authorities that many shootings of police officers happened when criminals, during a struggle or by guile, managed to gain possession of an officer’s weapon and shot him/her with his/her own weapon. It is estimated today that 40% of NYPD officers who are shot are the victims of bullets fired from their own guns.

    There is a bit of trouble getting such stats but of the 616 law enforcement officers killed on duty by criminals from 1994 through 2003, 52 were killed with their own weapon, amounting to 8 percent. If you do the math and check the FBI database it ends up between 7-10% for most years.

    “may view smart gun technology as gun control instead of gun safety.”

    Well they seem to be right in this case.

  • SteveK

    That’s all fine and good Elijah but who needs gun safety or limited magazine capacity?

    I’ve read thousands of words here on TMV promising as truth the “FACT” that Civilian guns are absolutely nothing like their Military Assault Rifles counterparts.

    The constant repetition of these NRA talking point “Truths” has got some starting to believe that these problems are all in the mind of anti-gun nuts… And then there’s this:

    FULLY AUTOMATIC “stock” AR-15’s – Bump fire from the shoulder

    “BUT,” the ‘Progunians’ (rhymes with Kenyans) will wail, “Thats’ not fair! Those fine young people had to be trained and it took a lot of practice.”

    To which many might wonder if 15 minutes of playtime with their bud’s (and their Bud’s) would constitute training and practice. The army had us on the rifle range two days before passing out ammunition.

    FWIW – Watch it again and see if you can count the number of rounds fired. If you could, see if you can count to 75 as fast as this kid shoots 75 rounds.

    To quote Roseanne Roseannadanna, “Never mind.”

  • So – saving 52 lives and stopping 7 to 10% of all cop killings wouldn’t be worth the effort? Sorry for being so snarky, but you kind of left yourself open on that one. The issue is not what the percentage is. The issue is that law enforcement personnel are being killed and wounded, sometimes with their own firearms. The author of the Computerworld article obviously had different percentages than your source, but how does that change the substance of the issue?

    Question EEllis: is there anything, other than putting more guns in more hands, that you would support to reduce gun violence in America? My concern – and I try to say this with respect for someone who speaks with knowledge as you often do – is that you may be closed minded to any solution other than more guns …that you will call anything else unconstitutional gun control. Please advise if I am wrong.


  • SteveK,

    Where do I begin? First I have to respond to an apparent absolutist gun rightist in EEllis. Then I get it from the left that telling the truth about what are and are not assault weapons is an NRA talking point designed to make folks think that problems are in the minds of gun control proponents.

    You know what? In good humor that I can only hope both you and EEllis will be kind enough to understand, I will take the high road and opine that this [slap from the right, slap from the left] demonstrates why I have found my calling writing for a blog called The Moderate Voice. 🙂

  • dduck

    ES, I am all for “only owner can use gun” modifications if practical. What I mean is many guns are stolen/borrowed, and if it is too easy as in semi to automatic kits are, then it may be a waste of time. I would suggest that the changing of the code to operate the firearm could only be done at a certified conversion center and the new owner has to have a background check. Yes, you would have to leave the firearm. However, in parallel with that program would be a buy-back or trade in program.
    No perfect program will probably be created, but the legacy firearms and mega-mags out there have to eventually be reduced and one or more of the smart weapons programs implemented.
    If Microsoft bought Colt, you would see how fast “smart” would be smart.
    Now we need an acronym for SMART.

  • SteveK


    For the last several weeks anytime an article or comment has referred to an AR-15 as an assault weapon EEllis has jumped in claiming that that was untrue and that anyone making such a claim was being intentionally misleading.

    His reason seems be an NRA talking-point claiming that AR-15’s are not assault weapons “because they are ‘semiautomatic’ and cannot be fired ‘automatically’ without major changes requiring machining and / or installing illegal parts.“

    The videos I posted show a stock AR-15 firing in the ‘fully automatic’ mode. This, I thought, should have put the NRA myth to rest but from your comment that is not the case. That’s a shame and a pretty sad commentary on where we are as a nation on this issue.

  • SteveK,

    Didn’t mean to be insulting to you or anyone else. The AR-15 is, BY DEFINITION, a semi-automatic. The following from Wikipedia:

    “The AR-15 is a lightweight, 5.56 mm, magazine-fed, semi-automatic rifle, with a rotating-lock bolt, actuated by direct impingement gas operation or long/short stroke piston operation. It is manufactured with the extensive use of aluminum alloys and synthetic materials.”

    Emphasis mine.

    The AR-15 is also sold at, for example, Cabela’s Outfitters in the category of semi-automatic rifles, priced from roughly $700 to roughly $1200.00.

    The military, fully automatic equivalent of the AR-15 is the M-16.

    Unlawful conversion or possession of an altered, fully automatic AR-15 (NFA weapon) is subject to a fine of $250,000. See 49 USC 781-788. See also 26 USC 5861 and 5872.

    The fact that someone can make a video and put it on the internet does not, by itself, mean that AR-15’s are sold “stock” as automatic weapons. If anyone said the conversion to fully automatic is difficult, I might take some issue with that. It likely would depend on the skill and experience of the person doing the converting and that person’s access to parts.

  • SteveK


    Not to worry, no one should be insulted (or insulting) just because they disagree and I don’t think either of us have/are.

    Also I didn’t mean to hijack your thread, I’ll just respond to your last paragraph, apologize for the hijack and back out.

    You wrote: “The fact that someone can make a video and put it on the internet does not, by itself, mean that AR-15?s are sold “stock” as automatic weapons.”

    They might not be sold “stock” as automatic weapons but with the belt loop on your pants or installing a legal aftermarket add-on it IS an automatic weapon.


    Slide Fire SSAR-15 Bump Fire Stock – Ships FREE

    All Models IN STOCK and Shipping!

    Slide Fire Stock – Free Shipping for a Limited Time – The original OGR and the new SBS design available NOW!

    The SBS and OGR models function the same, choose the design you like best!

    100% Legal to own and use!

    Slide Fire Solutions’ ground breaking “Slide Fire Stock” technology and ergonomic design provide individuals the ability to Bump Fire more safely – offering another element of entertainment for recreational shooters everywhere! You can now safely and accurately bump-fire your AR-15 at an incredible rate. Each SSAR-15 comes with a Hex Key to remove the factory pistol grip, Interface Block, SSAR-15 Rifle Stock, and Installation / Operation Instructions. Every SSAR-15 stock has a Lifetime Warranty from the manufacturer covering defects in materials and workmanship.

    Applying principles that have been used for over 40 years to Bump Fire – this new radical design ensures the operator can hold the rifle correctly without compromising their own safety or the safety of others around them. Unlike when bump firing from the hip; the SSAR-15 allows the shooter to properly aim the firearm. In addition, the shooter must push forward to discharge each round, as a result, the shooter corrects their point-of-aim for each shot discharged instead of allowing recoil to push the muzzle upward.

    * Available in both Right and Left handed models. Order a left handed stock if you shoot your gun from your left shoulder.
    * Quickly installs on any AR-15 with an adjustable stock
    * Constructed of premium reinforced high strength polymer
    * Compatible with Mil-Spec and Commercial buffer tubes
    * Some aftermarket trigger guards and sling attachment points may not be compatible

    Installation Notes:
    The SSAR-15 is designed for use on all AR-15 rifles equipped with a carbine style buffer tube. There are no permanent modifications or gunsmith required to install the SSAR-15.

    By removing the factory pistol grip and replacing it with the provided Interface Block – the SSAR-15 simply slides onto the buffer tube; replacing the factory adjustable stock. All tools required to install the SSAR-15 are provided.

    Compatible with Mil-Spec and Commercial Buffer tubes.

    If your AR-15 currently has an A2 style fixed stock, you can convert it to use the SSAR-15 with the buffer tube kit below, which includes a Mil-Spec 6-Position Buffer Tube, Castle Nut, H2 Buffer, Carbine Buffer Spring, End Plate, Hex Key, Spanner Wrench, Instructions, and an ambidextrous SSAR-15 SPADE Attachment. Select this option in the Buffer Tube drop-down below.

    Emphasis mine.

  • Hi Steve,

    Bump firing is NOT full automatic firing. Bump firing is a means of using the power of the rifle’s recoil to reset for quick trigger pulls. Each shot still requires a trigger pull. It is much more inaccurate than full automatic fire…among other issues like jamming and inability to maintain through a full magazine. Here is how Wikipedia describes bump firing:

    “Bump firing is the act of using the recoil of a firearm to fire multiple shots in rapid succession. … The relatively rapid bursts from semi-automatic firearms very crudely simulate the discharge of automatic firearms. Even though a large number of rounds are fired in rapid succession, the trigger finger initiates each discharge; therefore, fully automatic fire is not actually taking place.”

    Btw, you can do the same thing with a semi-automatic hunting rifle or with a semi-automatic handgun.

    Steve, I just want to proceed using the facts. If we fail to understand the facts we open ourselves to ridicule by political opponents. That hurts credibility and the ability to get things done in the areas of gun control and gun safety.

    Edit to Add: If you favor outlawing bump fire stocks, I won’t lose a lot of sleep over it. For my money I’d rather outlaw the 30 round magazines that ARE “stock” with the AR-15.

    • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

      Hi there all,
      Comments that highjack the topic into a ‘you, no you, no you,’ will be removed, according to the house rules.

      So will comments be removed that contain vulgarity, also not cohesive with house rules.

      We keep a comments section for civil discussion, not for any commenter who tries to dominate and/or highjack a discussion [also stated in house Rules for Commenters].

      You’re welcome to state your facts, debate, and teach. But if you want to argue with another commenter by being sarcastic and snide–and/or play victim when given back what one dished out–- take it elsewhere, not here. There are also millions, literally millions, of other sites online where one can publicly find others to be idiots to one’s heart’s content. Just not here at TMV.

      Stay to the topic of the article and not the writer, not other commenters and all is well and will be well.

      archangel/ dr.e


  • ShannonLeee

    The problem with this good idea is….

    When I go shooting in the country, everyone likes to try everyone’s guns. It is a major part of the culture that would be hard to change.

    I’ll admit two things 🙂
    I enjoy shooting at cans and telephone books.
    I almost had my foot shot off by some moron at one of these events.

  • petew

    Thanks for the great videos SteveK, but it sounds like Elijah Sweete, is ready to go the distance on quarrelling over what the complete definition of Automatic and semi-automatic weapons is. As far as I’m concerned, your videos and the sales listings of guns that can easily be adapted to bump-fire, are primarily, simple and honest examples of very lethal weapons, which are, therefore, dangerous when made easily available to the public. I think we should either find a way to completely administer effective background checks on ANYONE who intends to buy such a weapon, or PROHIBIT THE SALE of the weapon itself. After all, the government prohibits the sale of many products based on the fact that they expose the public to danger. This AR-15 seems to fit that bill, and obviously, high capacity clips including weapons and types of ammunition that can increase the ability to kill, are what attracts mass-shooters. Outside of military and law keeping forces such as the police, I can’t see how anyone requires such a weapon for any good enough reason, otherwise. It seems that sometimes drowning ourselves in facts, is only a ploy to deny the obvious—and, obviously those who are mentally ill or have criminal records should not possess, or have access to such weapons. And the fact that just about no one in civilian life really NEEDS such firepower, in my judgement, indicates that we have an open and shut case for restricting and/or OUTRIGHT DENYING these weapons to almost everyone.

    Thanks again for the great and undismissable videos!

  • SteveK

    Fast forward to 00:01:45…

    tidbits, look at what happens to the water in the pond in less than three seconds due to what you call “NOT full automatic firing.”

    Now imagine that the water as your child… Your grandchild… Or just anybody, somebody you don’t even know.

    The prosecution rests with a reminder that these weapons have the potential of evil and we can allow this to continue because “the boys want their toys” or we can stop it. This is the choice our society now faces… Let the defense (persecution) begin continue.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Oh My! Tidbits i am listening like a jury member…. that last video is damaging visual evidence….

    And i truly appreciate the information and education that is being offered. It is important for us to be able to see beyond all the smoke and mirrors..

  • EEllis

    So – saving 52 lives and stopping 7 to 10% of all cop killings wouldn’t be worth the effort? Sorry for being so snarky, but you kind of left yourself open on that one.

    Where did I say that? I addressed a stat that you used and gave a comparable nation wide stat that could be easily checked. Personally I’ll let the cops decide how to handle police shootings rather than a bunch of people talking on the internet. I know when the tech was new it was widely disused and examined by departments but in the end wasn’t used because the rate of FTF’s (fail to Fire) was to great. Now lets imagine the possible casualties when the cops can’t get their guns to fire when they need them to. I have no issues with using this tech if it works as desired I just don’t want it to be used as gun control rather than a safety device.

  • ShannonLeee

    wow…didnt know that SteveK, thanks for the enlightenment.

    Looks like you could kill a lot of people in a crowded area with that method…lots.

  • dduck

    Without the semis, bumpted, pumpted or whatever, killers would be LESS lethal. I am sticking to that point so let the rationalizing and obfuscation begin (again).
    People without easy access to firearms do less damage. None of the people in the following article were KILLED.
    Chinese Driver Runs Down Students Dec. 25th, 2012:
    I would rather see a U.S. without the semis, especially if they can be modified or miss-used to kill even more people. And, the idea that some law enforcement people may not be able to fire another cop’s firearm does not out weigh the extra benefit of weapons taken from the officer and used on him or the myriad of weapons stolen and used criminally in the person’s own home or outside in the community.

  • sheknows

    The smart gun is a great idea except that it won’t go anywhere here in the US. The NRA will see to it. In fact, they have already been successful in diverting the real issue and of course will continue to do so til you “pry the guns from their cold, dead hands”. Ohio and Arizona are already preparing to train and arm teachers. Perhaps they will eventually offer it to every vulnerable institution so we can have heat packing priests and nuns in private schools as well.
    Has EVERYONE in this society gone crazy? We are being bullied into this kind of insane thinking by the NRA, who is nothing more than by definition, a terrorist organization. When do we get some kahunas in this country?

  • EEllis

    And, the idea that some law enforcement people may not be able to fire another cop’s firearm does not out weigh the extra benefit of weapons taken from the officer and used on him or the myriad of weapons stolen and used criminally in the person’s own home or outside in the community.

    The problem is that in testing the guns did not always fire. They were not worried about other cops using someones gun, but that the cop who the gun belonged to would be left without a working firearm. Look maybe the tech will get there but it’s not. Since the NRA is run by the gun companies it’s hard to see why they are against smart guns because every major gun company has had some “smart” gun tech that they have been pushing. The one that solves it first will make huge money and would want people to use the tech. There are also issues like being able to jam smartgums if they use any type of radio as in rfid. Electromagnetic pulses may destroy a firearms ability to work. The list goes on. The tech just doesn’t appear because someones agenda says t should.

  • dduck

    So, meantime in NJ today three cops were shot at a station house by a suspect. Yes, it was one of the officer’s gun.
    I wouldn’t worry that the technology is not perfect yet and worry about the N.R.A. blocking the effort.
    Some say that the station’s procedure’s were lax, but meantime the shooting took place, where with a smart gun it would not have.

  • When Colt, in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, tried to introduce a smart gun (RFID technology), the reaction of the pro-gun crowd was so bitter and opposed that Colt decided to set up a separate company to avoid the controversy. Here’s a piece on the subject: .

    At that time, Colt was farthest along. There really isn’t much about smart guns from U. S. manufacturers after roughly 2000. I found one article from 2005. I think the idea that U. S. manufacturers are actively pursuing this option is at least overstated, and perhaps old news that is simply no longer valid.

    The principal complaints today are: 1) research funding has dried up; 2) U.S. manufacturers aren’t interested and aren’t pursuing it, and 3) the NRA is opposing any efforts to perfect the technology. If I am incorrect about the current state of affairs, I’d be happy to get a link that I could go to that would set me straight.

  • EEllis

    As to the NRA they couldn’t care less if this tech works. Actually it could be a good thing. They are against requiring mandating the use for all guns for a number of reasons.

  • EEllis, My comment was based on a composite of articles read. The link I provided actually DOES make reference to the adverse response of gun enthusiats. Here’s a quote from that piece:

    “Known as iColt, the new company could help distance the gun maker from the
    controversy surrounding the new weapon, which some gun advocates call a
    concession to firearm foes…”

    As for your reference to the NRA not caring, that’s not what the articles I’m reading say. Again, if you have a link, please provide…please.

  • dduck

    Yeh, who gives a flying __________ about three cops, TODAY, when we had 20 kids and seven adults killed a week ago.
    And as usual, the non-deaths from a deranged person in China that didn’t have an efficient killing device, is glossed over, AGAIN.

  • For anyone following this exchange, I did a bit of my own research on the NRA’s position on Smart Guns. In 1999 they issued a statement in which they found no objection to smart gun technology. By their 2002 national convention in Reno, that position had changed, as Wayne LaPierre himself criticized smart guns before 40,000 assembled members. The most recent update to Wikipedia reports that the NRA now opposes smart guns.

    “Smart guns have been criticized by gun-rights groups like the NRA…” from Wikipedia.

    And, this from Newsvine just two weeks ago:

    “The NRA is opposed to smart gun technology…The NRA claims that smart gun technology is an attempt to restrict gun ownership. But, restricting gun ownership is a gun control issue not a smart gun issue. They complain that it would make guns more expensive. Okay, that’s true.”

  • Duck,

    Thanks for the update on the law enforcement officers who died with their own gun being used. It is significant to the discussion on this thread. Perhaps it is to our shame that we don’t pay attention until the numbers pass a dozen or until the victims are children.

    On the other hand, if we took all gun violence to heart and reported each incident with equal fervor, there would be more than 10,000 major stories a year that would need to be reported. And that’s just homicides and doesn’t include accidental deaths and suicides.

  • dduck

    ES, they were shot, but fortunately NOT killed. There are more than a few of these incidents, and perhaps cops and their loved ones should be more concerned about it. I would opt for a smart gun if I had a choice, for sure.
    I wish there were some statistics on gun burglaries where these weapons wind up in violent injury and death incidents. This is probably a big number and smart guns might reduce that number.
    Here’s one:

  • dduck
    “New York City Police Detectives Robert Parker and Patrick Rafferty were shot and killed in East Flatbush on September 10th, allegedly after a suspect, Marlon Legere, 28, grabbed Parker’s gun and used it to shoot both detectives several times at close range. “

  • EEllis

    “Smart guns have been critisized”

    Well you could say I criticised them too because I don’t think they work well enough and obviously police depts agree but that doesn’t mean I have any problem the theory as a safety device. As gun control I would have many issues with it and if there was a push to make it mandatory I would object. That is not the same as objecting to police using the tech if it improves to the point where they trust it.

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