Small tech start-ups are taking on the big firearms manufacturers, developing smart guns that could save lives.
The United States leads the world in civilian gun ownership, with about 393 million weapons, or 46 per cent of the entire world’s civilian inventory. In an entrenched public debate about gun ownership, nimble tech companies have emerged looking to upgrade guns with technology so that they only shoot when operated by the owner or a nominated person.
Canada has tighter gun control laws than the US but has suffered rising gun thefts and a mass shooting, in recent years.
Personalized units, known as smart guns, could offer an effective compromise between gun enthusiasts and those who view firearms as weapons best suited to theatres of war.
Biofire, based in Boston, is developing handguns equipped with fingerprint sensors embedded in the grips. Currently, they have produced a proof-of-concept unit from off-the-shelf components and plan to bring products to market within 18–24 months.
Biofire Founder, Kai Kloepfer, hopes to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused either through accidents or by criminals accessing firearms.
“Your fingerprints are scanned quicker than you notice and the firearm stays unlocked for as long as you’re holding on to it. The moment it’s put down or taken out of the owner’s hands it will be locked and unusable. In a large way like a car or a cell phone works, it’s unlocked when you’re using it but its locked when you’re not by default, which is a very big shift from the way firearms are today, where anybody who has access to it can use it.”
Tracey Wilson, the “Gun Goddess” of the Canadian Coalition of Firearm Rights says guns in Canada are a parliamentary right and not a constitutional right, making the debate less fraught. However, she questions if adding complex technology would hinder functionality and maintenance.
“If one of my firearms malfunctions I take it to an expert to service, so I think it would be difficult for gunsmiths across the country to properly maintain and repair people’s firearms.” She adds, “I understand they’re trying to find a solution to a very complex problem, but at the end of the day the focus needs to be on crime.”
This view is why companies like Biofire are reluctant to bring a product to market until it is almost 100 per cent reliable. While mainstream firearms manufacturers have historically shown a reluctance to invest in smart guns, the desire for them appears to be there. A 2016 John Hopkins University study found almost half of American gun owners would consider buying a smart gun, and companies like Biofire hope to capitalize on this.
Kloepfer predicts that as the industry develops, smartgun technology will become available to gun buyers beyond the US, including Canada.
“There’s a healthy amount of skepticism, but we’re excited to show everybody that it is possible to integrate technology into a handgun and make it as reliable, if not more reliable than it was without the technology,” he says.
For more information on the tech behind the developments visit biofire.io.