Imagine a gun that could never be turned against you by an intruder, a gun that would never go off in the hands of a child, a gun that would be useless as a paperweight if it were stolen. In fact, that technology is already here. From the German-made Armatix iP1, which only works if the shooter is wearing a special wristwatch, to the Utah-made Intelligun, which is unlocked by fingerprints, so-called “smart guns” or “personalized guns” are poised to transform the gun industry. Expect them to get even smarter in the years to come: Ron Conway, an angel investor in Google and Facebook, recently announced a $1 million prize for the best new safety technology.
Unfortunately, a technology that could significantly improve gun safety and prevent certain acts of violence has become caught up in a hopelessly polarized national gun debate. One might think gun-rights advocates would be eager to remove some of the most powerful arguments for limiting the sale of firearms. But they aren’t. The National Rifle Association plays up the fact that, for now, “smart guns” are less reliable and more expensive. Gun-rights advocates worry that the technology that renders a gun inoperable in the hands of thief could also allow the government to shut a gun down in the hands of a legitimate owner. But the biggest reason for the opposition to “smart guns” stems from the fear that they will prompt a ban on ordinary guns.