White House releases study on how to spur smart-gun tech

A proposed rule will help ensure appropriate information is reported about individuals prohibited from buying a gun for mental health reasons

armatix smart gun

In 2014, Armatix attempted to introduce a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol that prevented anyone but the wearer of a special watch with an RFID chip from firing it. Gun advocates protested gun stores attempting to sell it.

Credit: Armatix

The White House today released the findings from a study by the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security Departments on ways to spur the development of smart-gun technology, which restricts who can fire a weapon.

Smart-gun technology uses RFID chips or biometrics, such as a fingerprint scanner or grip recognition, to release a locking mechanism on a weapon. The technology was initially developed to prevent police officers' weapons from being grabbed in a struggle and used against them. The military has also expressed interest in the technology for the same reason.

For two decades, smart-gun technology has advanced in fits and starts as wary investors kept purse strings tight and gun rights proponents at times fought its uptake.

Then, in January, President Obama directed the federal government to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology, along with ways to promote it.

"If we can set it up so you can't unlock your phone unless you've got the right fingerprint, why can't we do the same thing for our guns? If a child can't open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can't pull a trigger on a gun," Obama said in January.

Obama also instructed various defense and law enforcement agencies to "review the availability of smart-gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety."

He also commissioned a study by the various defense and law enforcement agencies on the state of the technology.

The study, Report to the President Outlining a Strategy to Expedite Deployment of Gun Safety Technology, stated that smart-gun technology "holds great promise."

"By incorporating electronic systems into a firearm's design, manufacturers can give gun owners greater control over how a weapon is used, both by limiting who can fire the gun ("user-authorization technology") and by making a gun easier to retrieve if it is lost or stolen ("electronic recovery technology")," the report stated.

Additionally, the DOJ and DHS have begun a process to define, for the first time, the requirements that manufacturers would need to meet for federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies to consider purchasing firearms with enhanced safety technology. They've committed to completing that process by October, and will also identify agencies interested in taking part in a pilot program to develop the technology.

early njit prototype smart gun NJIT

A 9mm Beretta semi-automatic pistol was the initial prototype for the New Jersey Institute of Technology's smart gun, which uses sensors to detect each gun owner's unique grip.

The report also stated that through the DOJ, state and local governments can apply certain federal grants to the purchase of new firearms, including those equipped with advanced safety technology.

"Together, these actions have the potential to jumpstart the development of proven gun safety technologies that can save lives and preserve the effectiveness of our firearms. There is no problem that America's innovators cannot solve, and we are confident that by focusing the private sector's attention on smart-gun technology, we will unlock life-saving innovations," Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement, stated in a news release.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a proponent of smart-gun technology, applauded the study and its call for action.

"Smart guns are smart gun safety policy," Markey said in a statement. "By unleashing the power of American research and innovation, we can literally keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them and give law enforcement the tools they need to keep communities safer from gun violence. Smart-gun technology has the potential to save lives, especially those killed accidentally by guns."

Last year, Senator Markey and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced The Handgun Trigger Safety Act, legislation that would support the use of personalization (or smart-gun) technology that allows the purchaser of a gun to designate authorized user(s) who can operate the gun and would make the gun inoperable for all others.

A recent Johns Hopkins survey found that six in 10 Americans want safer guns.

"This announcement gets us closer as a society to giving consumers the choice for reliable, proven and affordable personalized firearms technology," said Margot Hirsch, president of the Tech Challenge Foundation, an organization that promotes innovation in smart-gun technology for safer communities.

In 2013, the Tech Challenge Foundation, created by a group of Silicon Valley entrepeneurs, sponsored a $1 million "Smart Tech for Firearms Challenge," which resulted in the funding of 15 smart-gun innovators.

The new report stated that the DOD will continue to help manufacturers test "smart" firearms under real-world conditions at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland. Manufacturers would be eligible to win cash prizes through that program as well.

"The federal government stands ready to assist state and local governments as smart gun technology continues to be developed," Jarrett said. "This effort presents a unique opportunity for law enforcement agencies to improve their own operations and encourage the development of advanced gun safety technology."

Mental health and guns

In January, Obama also called for a new $500 million investment in mental health treatment and underscored the increased mental health coverage that the Affordable Care Act has made possible.

The study stated the Social Security Administration (SSA) is now moving forward with one aspect of that effort by publishing a proposed rule to help ensure appropriate information in its records is reported to the background check system about individuals prohibited from buying a gun. The rule would also provide a way for people to seek relief from the federal prohibitions on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.

This is just the first step in the rulemaking process. Once the rule publishes in the Federal Register, the public has 60 days to comment on the proposal to ensure the SSA can incorporate feedback from a broad range of stakeholders before finalizing the rule.

Next month, the White House will host a 50-state Gun Violence Prevention convention that will bring together state and local elected officials -- including governors, attorneys general, state legislators, and city and county officials -- who have been leaders in the fight to save lives from gun violence.

The agenda will focus on state and local efforts to prevent gun violence through legislative and executive actions, including those focused on reducing gun violence in domestic abuse incidents and furthering research and development of smart-gun technologies.

Convention participants will also have an opportunity to discuss ways states can improve their reporting to the background check system, particularly in light of new data recently released by DOJ about the number of records each state has submitted to a key national database.

"The actions the administration takes will help make our communities safer and keep more guns out of the hands of folks who shouldn't have them," Jarrett said. "That is just common sense."

This story, "White House releases study on how to spur smart-gun tech" was originally published by Computerworld.

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