"60 Minutes" Takes on Smart Guns

photo from CBSnews.com.

As the gun debate argument circles round and round, the topic of so-called smart guns comes up as if on a regular cycle. Recently, CBS's "60 Minutes" took on the subject , interviewing the Chief of Police in San Francisco—a city that has enacted several and controversial strict gun laws recently—and citing the effectiveness of the technology in a James Bond movie from three years ago.

The same, familiar questions are asked: if the fingerprint recognition technology works well enough to unlock your smartphone, why not have it on your gun? It could be a good idea, in theory: a gun that can only be fired by the person who owns it. Assuming a gun can be programmed to be used by multiple members of a family in a home defense situation and it functions flawlessly every single time, then it seems a viable idea.

Engineers have been working on smart gun development for years, coming at the problem from different angles. Some utilize fingerprint recognition, others have tech that can recognize the squeeze of your grip, or unlock wirelessly using an RFID device embedded in a watch or ring when it gets close enough, as the story says.

"Smart guns could curtail the number of suicides, and cut down on the resale of stolen guns; estimated to be 230,000 every year. What good is a gun no one but the owner can fire? And they would help on-duty cops," the interviewer, Lesley Stahl, states.

However, as we've reported in the past, the availability of firearms doesn't impact suicide rates. Individuals commit suicide whether guns are around or not, in one way or another.

As for smart guns being basically useless on the street if they're stolen, true, they'd be useless immediately after being stolen, but if smart phones can be hacked, it wouldn't be long before the smart gun tech could be hacked, and the fact that it is a smart gun may cause people to be more lax about locking it up safely. l

The story poses the question of why, if at least half a dozen smart guns are in development, has no major gun manufacturer begun making one?

Stahl posits that it's because no company would willingly incur the wrath of the gun community, citing the case of Maryland gun dealer Engage Armament, which once announced it would sell the German-made Armatix iP1 smart pistol.

Andy Raymond, co-owner of Engage Armament, said he thought the people who'd be interested in such a gun would be the "fence sitters, people who aren't normally into guns and don't normally want one. You know, 'Eh, I'm too afraid' or whatever."

The day he announced the store would be carrying the gun, they were flooded with angry emails and calls including death threats. He stayed up in his gun shop all night to guard it.

"If you believe in the Second Amendment, and the Second Amendment is absolute, that the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, then you should be able to buy whatever you want," Raymond said.

Other obstacles to the introduction of smart guns to the market, once they actually get to be a functional product, are laws like one passed in New Jersey in 2002, often cited by the NRA as one way smart guns could open the door to an overall gun ban.

"There is a statute in the state of New Jersey that (says)…once a gun like this is offered for sale anywhere, that's the only kind of gun that could be sold," said Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. "People that own guns are not the ones saying, 'I'm the one that wants this. Please develop it.' It's coming from the gun control side. It's coming from people who, frankly, really want to put as many obstacles to a gun going off as they can."

Loretta Weinberg, the N.J. state senator who authored the law, said she didn't foresee the backlash it would cause.

"We passed that bill to help spur technology. It appears it totally backfired because it spurred this passionate objection to the gun," Weinberg said in the story.

Raymond said he later realized that if he had begun selling the Armatix in Maryland, it would have triggered the mandate in New Jersey, banning the sale of regular handguns there.

"The people of New Jersey: my apologies. You got nothing to worry about from me," Raymond said. "I did apologize. I'm sorry. Sorry to this day." http://www.cbsnews.com/news/smart-guns-60-minutes-lesley-stahl/

"Why are you trying to take my firearm, which I store safely and properly and I've never had problems with it, and add something to it that's going to make it more prone to failure?" Sanetti said in the interview. When asked why there shouldn't be mandatory safe guns the way there are seat belt and air-bag laws, Sanetti replied, "Firearms are safe. The firearms manufacturers include appropriate locking devices for their guns along with them when they're shipped. They may be low-tech, but they work."

Anyone who has tried to unlock a smartphone via fingerprint with slightly dirty, sweaty, or wet fingers will know that the high-tech options still have a ways to go before people will trust their lives to them.