Connected pistols, which only respond to people identified in advance, could be marketed this year in the United States, where lawmakers are deadlocked on the regulation of firearms.
The interest of integrating electronic chips into certain weapons, and the reliability of these, have been debated for years. The aim would be to prevent children, criminals and suicidal people from pulling the trigger.
But there is no evidence at this stage that the followers of armed self-defense are not ready to adopt them, nor that these so-called “smart” pistols do not work as well as promised.
“I don’t have a crystal ball to know if it’s going to be mostly positive, mostly negative or ultimately the same failure as other connected guns in the past,” remarks Adam Skaggs, a legal adviser at Giffords, a firearms regulatory association.
The company SmartGunz has used RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, such as those used in badges for electronic tolls, for example. The user must wear a connected ring in order to fire.
Boss Tom Holland is targeting police officers who fear an apprehended person will turn their gun on them, or parents worried about their children finding their gun.
“People who want a more ‘safe’ weapon can make that choice if they feel they need lethal protection at home,” he explains.
His products are already being tested by police units around the country, and he hopes to market them to the public in the spring.
– Digital print –
Some 40% of American adults live in a home where there are guns, estimates the Pew Research Center firm.
Nearly 23 million units were sold in 2020, a record, according to Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, which expects 20 million for 2021.
The pandemic and protests against racial discrimination contributed to a sharp rise in homicides in 2020, although levels remained below peaks in the 1990s.
And American tragedies in schools or public places regularly make headlines, but more than half of the 40,000 gun deaths each year are suicides.
Ginger Chandler, co-founder of manufacturer LodeStar Works, sees authentication systems as a physical but also psychological barrier to incidents.
“In a moment of stress, the authorized person will grab the weapon but there will be this additional step,” she notes. “Maybe it will give them time to think, ‘Do I really want to do this?'”.
His company plans to market a 9 mm in 2023 which can be activated via a mobile application, directly with a secret code or even by biometric recognition of the fingerprint.
– More “intelligent” but still deadly –
Companies probably won’t be able to count on legislators to get their new gear adopted. The subject divides the voters to the point of preventing any evolution of the laws.
In 2000, the American manufacturer Smith & Wesson and the government of Bill Clinton had agreed that the connected pistols would be part of reforms to reduce violence, but the project did not hold, in the face of the opposition from the powerful gun lobby.
Similarly, in 2002, a New Jersey state law that would have banned guns without an authentication mechanism sparked outrage. It was never really applied, the technology not being ready.
This law was finally transformed in 2019 into a simple obligation for state armories to sell these new generation weapons when they are marketed.
The episode of the failure of the German manufacturer Armatix did not help this technology either: in 2017, a hacker bypassed their identification system with magnets.
Above all, the concept is not even unanimous among supporters of the regulation of firearms.
Because connected or not, these weapons remain deadly. And “few at-risk owners or families will buy these pistols more expensive than the others. They will especially appeal to those who already cared about safety”, underlines Daniel Webster, researcher specializing in the subject at Johns Hopkins University.
Gareth Glaser, the co-founder of LodeStar, does not want to get involved in political debates: “we prefer that the government not get involved and let the consumer choose”.