Mass shootings were a horribly frequent occurrence in 2015. To kick off 2016, the White House announced that it plans to use its executive authority to improve gun control because Congress is unable to pass any significant legislation. Among President Obama's proposals is the adoption of "smart gun technology" by the government so that it's harder for people to shoot guns that don't belong to them.
What this basically boils down to is a biometric gun lock. Noting that tens of thousands of people are injured or killed by firearms yearly, "in many cases by guns that were sold legally but then stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally," President Obama wrote in a memo sent out Monday that he wants to "expedite the real-world deployment of [gun safety] technology," such as guns that require owners' fingerprints before firing. Obama wants a joint report within 90 days from the Defense Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Homeland Security Secretary on how to make this happen.
Part of that real-world deployment would involve the U.S. government itself using the safety tech. "The Federal Government has a unique opportunity to do so, as it is the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country," wrote Obama.
There are a number of different tech options out there thanks to interest from start-ups, as noted in a Computer World editorial last month:
Smart guns make guns safer in a variety of ways. Some use fingerprint readers so that only authorized users can fire the gun. Others, such as iGun use RFID technology so that only someone who holds or wears a specific object like a ring can fire it. SGTi can retrofit existing guns with fingerprint readers.
It will be welcome news in Silicon Valley, where influential venture capitalist Ron Conway has been pushing smart gun technology since the 2013 Newtown shooting, in which the shooter used his mother's gun.
It's not easy trying to introduce smart gun tech though. When Smith & Wesson promised the Clinton administration it would introduce smart guns 15 years ago, it was boycotted by the gun lobby. "Factories closed, employees were laid off, and after that, no big U.S. gunmaker ever went near a smart gun," reported 60 Minutes. As the New York Times noted in 2014, gun enthusiasts remain skeptical and antagonistic toward start-ups in the smart gun space:
Second Amendment defenders argue that once guns with high-tech safety features go on sale, government mandates will follow. They cite a decade-old New Jersey law requiring that within three years of the recognition technology’s becoming available in the United States, all guns sold in the state would have to be “smart."
While the mainstream adoption of tech that makes guns slightly harder to shoot would likely cut down on accidental discharges, kids killing each other with their parents' guns, and shootings with stolen guns, it obviously has limitations in addressing America's mass shooting problem. Technology, as usual, is not a universal cure.
Many deaths by firearms are performed by the legal owner of a gun, meaning a fingerprint scanner wouldn't prevent them. Until a smart gun is able to detect that it is pointed at a human being, with artificial intelligence that can scan the situation and the mindset of the person holding the gun as well as the psychological profile of the person at whom the gun is aimed, we're not going to be able to solve America's gun problem completely with technology.