Are Smart Guns the Answer?

By Mark Roberti

In the wake of the mass shooting at a nightclub in Florida, maybe it's time to take a serious look at RFID-enabled guns.

The world is rightly aghast at the horrific killing of 49 innocent night-club goers in Orlando, Fla., in the early morning of June 13. In the days that have followed, I have heard a lot of talk about what we can do to prevent such heinous acts in the future. One possible solution not discussed much, if at all: smart guns.

Companies have been busy making all kinds of products smarter, including coffee makers, refrigerators, thermostats and doorbells. Some companies have also been working on ways to make guns smarter. Irish company TriggerSmart has developed an RFID-enabled pistol (see watch the video). The idea is simple. There is a passive high-frequency (HF) reader in the pistol grip, and the gun will not fire unless the owner is wearing a ring or wristband with a passive HF chip in it (see James Bond's Smart Gun Misfires).

The idea is to prevent children from finding a gun and accidentally injuring themselves or playmates. It could also be used to prevent police officers' weapons from being wrestled away and used against them, or stolen and used in a crime. But TriggerSmart believes the same basic concept could be used on a larger scale to prevent massacres such as the one in Florida.

Instead of a passive HF reader in the gun, or in addition to it, a Wi-Fi transceiver could be fitted into each automatic pistol and rifle. If a madman were to take hostages or start shooting people indiscriminately, the police could send a signal via the Wi-Fi network to deactivate the perpetrator's guns. Police weapons would have a different kill command to be utilized only in cases in which a law-enforcement weapon were being used in a crime.

This might seem farfetched, but it's not. Developing a version of the Childproof RFID Smart Gun that can be deactivated via Wi-Fi only requires time and money (which the company is currently looking for). Gun-rights supporters in the United States would likely be opposed to Wi-Fi-enabled smart weapons, because they oppose any government intervention in their Second Amendment rights. There's also the issue of how effective they would be. The U.S. military is not actively pursuing such a smart-gun solution, because it fears an enemy could hack the system and render its weapons useless.

It would, of course, be expensive to retrofit all police guns, and it's unlikely that most gun owners would volunteer to have their weapons retrofitted. Still, preventing a terrorist or mentally disturbed individual from buying a new gun and using it against innocent people is everyone's goal. Perhaps there is a research organization or a government willing to invest in this technology and develop it further. Perhaps, one day, it could help to reduce the number of people killed accidentally—and on purpose—worldwide.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.