Smart Guns Should Be an Option

By Mark Roberti

For gun owners, police departments and others, RFID-enabled guns could offer protection, but funding is needed to bring a viable product to market.

The National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, recently issued guidelines for smart law-enforcement service pistols. The document includes a lot of details about what the weapon should look like, but the key security clause says: "Pistols shall have an integrated 'lock-out' security device as a permanent part of the pistol that disables the firing mechanism except when in the control of authorized individuals."

The document doesn't mention radio frequency identification, but it does state that the device could include a ring or wristband that the owner would wear to enable the gun to operate normally. This is how RFID-enabled smart guns work. The owner wears a ring or wristband with a tag. A reader inside the handle of the gun reads the tag, and if it has the right ID number, the gun works normally. If the reader does not detect a tag, or if the ID in the tag is wrong, the gun will not fire.

We wrote about a company called TriggerSmart back in 2012 (see Keeping Guns Out of the Wrong Hands). A gun owner could buy a weapon and keep it loaded in a drawer by the bed. If a criminal or small child grabbed the gun, it would not fire. The same concept could also protect law-enforcement officers, who are sometimes shot when a criminal grabs an officer's gun and uses it against him or her.

In June 2016, following the massacre of 49 innocent night-club goers in Orlando, Fla., I wrote about TriggerSmart and another idea the company has had, which is to add a Wi-Fi transceiver to guns and enable the police to switch off all guns through an emergency signal sent via the Wi-Fi network of an airport, club or other public building. The Wi-Fi message could disable the RFID reader in the gun and thus disable the weapon (see Are Smart Guns the Answer?).

I reached out to a senior official at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) back in June to find out if the agency had any interest in funding smart-gun research. The response was that there is no interest, because while the technology could prevent stolen or diverted weapons from being used against United States soldiers, an enemy could potentially hack the smart guns and prevent U.S. soldiers from using them.

I thought that a little strange, frankly. The U.S. military uses computers to run their operations, but computers can be hacked. The idea is not to avoid using any new technologies because an enemy might hack them—it's to develop new technologies and prevent them from being hacked.

Okay, so the military isn't going to help. Fair enough. The National Institute of Justice has issued a Gun Safety Technology Challenge. The goal is to have an "objective demonstration through testing and evaluation of the reliability of firearms and firearms accessories available today that are typically known by various terms such as smart guns, user-authorized handguns, childproof guns, and personalized firearms." This could raise awareness of smart guns and encourage groups to donate money to further research on such weapons.

I don't believe smart guns will solve the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. There are too many weapons in existence that don't have smart technology, and some people fear that the government would use smart technology to restrict owners' rights. But if technologies like that developed by TriggerSmart were an option to gun buyers and police departments, they could save some lives.

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.