Could so-called smart guns be the solution to gun control and fewer mass shooting incidents? A new study finds that while there is widespread support for smart guns, the considerable additional cost and questionable efficacy demotivates people from purchasing such weapons.
According to the study by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, smart guns hold considerable potential but have yet to proselytize large numbers of American gun owners.
With respect to the research method, in 2016, the team conducted an online, nationwide survey of American gun owners, inquiring about their concerns on smart gun technology, costs and the possibility of buying such a weapon. In 2018, the team analyzed the results to determine which attributes were linked to people who were more likely to buy a smart gun.
The results are revealing. The Johns Hopkins team found 48% of gun owners were — to varying degrees — familiar with smart guns and that 79% believed firearms shops should be selling both traditional and smart guns. However, only 5% were likely and 13% very likely to purchase a personalized gun with features that added about $300 to the price tag. Furthermore, 70% questioned the efficacy of the technology, and 56% believed that the price was too high. Finally, those who reported they safely stored their current firearms were 50% more likely to purchase a smart gun.
Smart guns, also known as personalized guns, are safer because of their personalized design, which is specifically tailored to the user. For example, a smart gun’s pistol grip — utilizing biometric sensors — would only recognize the person for whom the gun was manufactured, thereby making it harder for other people to purposely or accidentally discharge the firearm.
Another popular technology is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). RFID connects a weapon to a small wearable device (for instance, a ring, bracelet, watch, or necklace) and allows only the wearer to fire the gun.
Smart guns, however, have a number of disadvantages. To begin with, they are more expensive given their tailored nature. Second, they can’t be resold to other gun owners. Third, they can’t be used by other people in case of an emergency. This point might seem counterintuitive but consider the case where an intruder has stormed a house in which the smart gun’s owner is absent or incapacitated. The personalized nature of the gun wouldn’t allow other members of the family to defend themselves with it.
The team concluded: “Current gun owners expressed modest interest in purchasing personalized guns with radio frequency identification technology. Because gun owners interested in personalized guns appear more safety conscious, the potential benefit of personalized guns in these homes may be limited.”
Feature image: A prototype of a smart gun that NJIT spent more than a decade developing. The gun uses sensors to measure a user’s hand grip so only authorized users can fire. Courtesy of the New Jersey Institute of Technology