Anti-gun politicians in the 116th Congress have no shortage of ideas when it comes to different ways of threatening the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners in America. The misnomer phrase “common sense gun safety” includes misguided and ineffective policies such as requiring background checks to purchase ammunition or requiring so-called “smart gun” technology despite the slew of unanswered questions that experts have posed about the reliability of the unproven technology.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped lawmakers like U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) from introducing legislation that positions the government to take an outsized role in mandating the use of smart gun technology.
“Authorized user recognition” technology, commonly referred to as smart gun technology, refers to the concept wherein a firearm would be able to recognize an authorized user, and be limited to firing only when operated by an authorized user as identified by a fingerprint or RFID signal.
No Limit on Bad ideas
Poorly-planned ideas even got traction on the campaign trail when presidential candidate Joe Biden claimed, “If I get elected president of the United States of America with your help, if that happens, guns, we have the capacity now in a James Bond-style to make sure no one can pull a trigger unless their DNA and fingerprint is on it. We have that capacity to do it now. You know it.”
The Start Advancing Firearms Enhancements and Technology (SAFETY) Act, S. 1884, according to Senator Murphy’s press release, is designed to both provide tax incentives to firearm manufacturers who invest more in smart gun development and provide incentives to consumers to buy smart guns by reducing the firearm excise tax amount on guns that meet his definition.
Senator Murphy’s press release goes on to claim that “the firearm industry and responsible gun owners should already be embracing these kinds of innovations,” but in truth, gun manufacturers have actually been researching smart gun technology since its first emergence in the 1990s. Measurable demand from consumers, however, has never materialized. Instead, gun buyers in general and law enforcement in particular have expressed deep suspicion toward devices that interfere with the straightforward and reliable operation of a firearm.
Lack of Consumer Demand
Most recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that while almost 50 percent of gun owners have heard of smart guns, just 5 percent of the respondents would even consider buying a smart gun. It defies the principles of the free market for Congress to push American businesses into manufacturing a product that consumers aren’t interested in purchasing.
First and foremost, there are significant concerns about the reliability of a smart gun, especially if the battery that powers the technology runs out of power. In one scenario, when the battery fails, the firearm would revert to a default mode where it can be fired by anyone, not just the authorized user. In this case, not only is the entire point of the technology defeated but it would also expose the manufacturer to serious lawsuits for a defective product.
The second potential scenario is if the battery fails and the firearm ceases to operate, even if the authorized user is holding it. In a life-threatening situation where someone is defending themselves or their family, the potential for a smart gun to fail in this manner is simply unacceptable.
Finally, as many of us may have experienced with our smartphones, fingerprint or other smart ID technology is not perfect and can often not work properly on the first try. In a life-threatening scenario, arming yourself with a smart gun is untenable unless you know that the technology will work 100 percent of the time, every time. At this point in time, we know that the standard is not even close to being met.
Path to Mandates
It is ironic that when talking about this bill, Senator Murphy said it is meant to “harness the power of American innovation,” but that sentiment is already shared by those in the firearms industry. NSSF thoroughly believes the free market should be allowed to function. If there is sufficient consumer demand, and the technological challenges to making a safe and reliable product are overcome, then it will come to market.
NSSF, however, strongly opposes any government mandate that requires smart guns to be sold in lieu of a traditional firearm. Mandates like these have already been seen across the country and are the inevitable end goal of legislators like Senator Murphy. When it comes to the Second Amendment and the right to defend yourself, Americans simply cannot be forced by the government to rely on faulty devices that may or may not work when needed the most.
Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that all firearms, when not in use, should be securely stored to prevent unauthorized access. Every firearm ever made is capable of being secured from unauthorized use by a responsible firearms owner.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel at National Shooting Sports Foundation.