16 January 2022
Smart guns, guns that can only be fired by certain users, might become available to U.S. buyers after more than 20 years of debate.
This debate has included questions about reliability and concerns that smart guns will lead to a new wave of government rules.
Smart guns: supporters and main issues
The company LodeStar Works recently showed its 9mm smart handgun to investors in Boise, Idaho. And a company based in Kansas, SmartGunz LLC, said law enforcement agents are testing its product, a similar but simpler model.
Both companies hope to have a product available for American buyers this year.
LodeStar co-founder Gareth Glaser said he has heard too many stories about children shot while playing with an unattended gun. Smart guns could stop such tragedies by using technology that confirms a user's identity and disables the gun should anyone else try to fire it.
Supporters of the technology say it could reduce suicides and make lost or stolen guns useless. In addition, it could offer protection for police officers and jail guards who risk having their own weapons used against them.
But earlier attempts to develop smart guns have failed.
Smith & Wesson promised in 1999 to support smart guns and other measures in an agreement with the U.S. government. As a result, the National Rifle Association, a gun rights group, supported a boycott that led to a drop in sales.
And in 2014, German company Armatix put a smart handgun on the market. But it was withdrawn after hackers discovered a way to block the gun's radio signals. They also could fire the gun using magnets when it should have been blocked from firing.
Smart gun technology, criticisms
Most early smart gun test models used either fingerprint or radio technology to unlock the gun.
LodeStar uses both a fingerprint reader and a communication device activated by a phone app. It also permits the entry of a personal identification number or PIN. The gun can permit more than one user.
SmartGunz would not say which law enforcement agencies are testing its weapons, which are secured by radio identification.
Critics have argued that smart guns are too risky for a person or police officer to use during a crisis.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry trade group, says it does not oppose smart guns as long as the government does not make laws that require their sale.
Lawrence Keane is a vice president of the NSSF. Keane said: "If I had a nickel for every time in my career I heard somebody say they're about to bring us a so-called smart gun on the market, I'd probably be retired now."
The arrival of smart guns on the market could lead to legal changes. For example, a 2019 New Jersey law requires all gun shops in the state to offer smart guns after they become available. The 2019 law replaced a 2002 law that would have banned the sale of any handgun except for smart guns.
Scott Bach of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs said, "The other side tipped their hand because they used smart guns to ban everything that's not a smart gun...It woke gun owners up."
To tip one's hand means to show a plan of action at a time that is too early.
The New Jersey state law has raised the anger of defenders of the Second Amendment.
This amendment to the U.S. Constitution says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
I'm John Russell.
Daniel Trotta reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English.
Words in This Story
certain – adj. used to refer to something or someone that is not named specifically
reliability – n. the quality or ability to be trusted to do or provide what is needed
hacker – n. computers : a person who secretly gets access to the files on a computer or network in order to get information, cause damage, etc.
infringe – v. to wrongly limit or restrict (something, such as another person's rights)
nickel – n. a U.S. coin that is worth five cents