"Smart Guns":

Doug Berman (Sentencing Law & Policy) asks how "smart gun" technology is doing. I take it that "smart gun" here means technology that can keep unauthorized users from using a gun (e.g., some sort of fingerprint recognition technology, though that's just one example), but would still leave the "smart gun" as effective as a normal gun for self-defense.

I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this, but let me suggest one broader point: My sense is that gun manufacturers have plenty of incentive to develop good technology if such a technology is feasible. If they aren't developing it, that's a pretty good sign that smart guns would either be prohibitively expensive or insufficiently reliable, at least without vast technological advances.

I say this because gun manufacturers face a rare problem: Many of their customers (the ones who aren't gun collectors or otherwise gun enthusiasts) are going to give them nearly no repeat business. I have my Glock in my gun safe and it works just fine for me (that is to say, it would work fine if I could get it out of the safe in time, which I hope I could). It will probably work for decades if not centuries. Glock will get no more money out of me or many other people like me for a long time, precisely because it's created such a reliable and long-lasting technology.

The only way they can sell more to people like me -- people who have shown a willingness to buy guns, and therefore seem like a desirable market segment, but who have all the guns they need already -- is by offering me something a lot better than the original. A gun that my kids can't fire without my permission would qualify; I'd definitely buy it if it were affordable and reliable. I'd imagine that many gun owners who have children would do the same; so would many police departments who are worried about criminals' grabbing guns from a police officer in a scuffle. Whoever patents and develops such a workable technology (whether that's an existing gun manufacturer, a start-up, or a company that's in some other line of business, and whether here in the U.S. or abroad) could sell billions of dollars' worth of guns in the span of only a few years, as many millions of gun-owning parents decide to upgrade to the safer versions.

My guess, then, isn't that the gun manufacturers and other manufacturers are sitting idle and neglecting to do research in this area. Rather, it's that people who know have looked into this, and the problem is much more difficult than it appears, especially given the necessary level of reliability that gun owners rightly expect from their weapons.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Focusing on Only One Risk:
  2. "Smart Guns":