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Why RFID Is the Only Viable Path for Life-Saving Smart Gun Technology

Radio frequency identification offers the only feasible commercial approach to reducing the plague of gun violence in the United States.
By Ralph Fascitelli
Jan 22, 2017

Gun violence is the United States' own unique public health catastrophe. Since the turn of the millennium some 17 years ago, more than two million Americans have been shot, including 565,000 fatalities. It is a rate of gun violence almost 20 times higher per capita than the average for all other modern industrialized societies. And despite the horrific toll—which easily exceeds all U.S. combat deaths combined since the Civil War—the prospects for federal legislative remedies are virtually nil.

In the midst of all this gloomy conundrum is a technological solution that could save upwards of 10,000 lives annually by reducing the incidence of child firearm accidents, suicides involving third-party firearms and homicides committed with one of the 250,000 guns stolen annually. Smart guns are firearms that utilize technology to ensure they can only be operated by an authorized user. Two different approaches have been proven to be workable: a biometric approach, which typically involves thumbprint identification, and radio frequency identification, which involves a digital connection with a computer chip on a Fitbit-type bracelet or ring on the opposite hand.

For a variety of political and financial reasons, the ultimate market success of smart guns will depend on which path is taken. While many in Silicon Valley and elsewhere prefer the sexier biometric approach, it is increasingly apparent that the RFID path represents the only viable commercial approach.

There are more than six million handguns sold annually in the United States each year, the vast majority of which are sold to consumers via federally licensed retail gun dealers. But dealers have been hesitant for a while now to carry smart guns. Some gun rights extremists are leery of any combination of firearms and technology, and unduly paranoid of an alleged federal master switch that theoretically could render all such smart guns inoperable. As for the National Rifle Association (NRA), while they are officially neutral on the topic of smart guns, they have been hesitant to call in the extremist wolves that are generating the most pushback at the retail level.

That leaves the almost 20,000 local police departments representing more than one million firearm-carrying law-enforcement officers as the critical key beachhead for new smart gun technology. Thirty years ago, success with local and national police groups enabled new automatic-reloading Glock pistols to gain a quick foothold in the U.S. gun market. Direct sales to law enforcement provided higher profit margins that enabled Glock to be cash-flow-positive much earlier than if they initially went through the retail dealer channel.

USER COMMENTS

Marwan Nusair 2017-01-26 01:25:01 PM
Smart gun technology sounds great in theory, but I have the same concerns as a police officer would have regarding their use. If I keep a pistol at home for defense (and I hope we agree that this is allowed) then I need members of my family to be able to retrieve it and use it with instant effect, without having to first wear a wrist band or other wearable device to activate the gun. Biometric ID is even worse, of course, since I would want anyone staying with us at the house to be able to use the gun in a dire emergency. I don't know how quickly an RFID system would activate the gun, but even a fraction of a second would be too long. I want to pull a trigger and have a shot go out instantly (or as instantly as my own reaction time will permit). It will take a lot of convincing to get me to get one of these things.

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