Smart guns are firearms that incorporate some type of technology that makes it difficult for anyone other than the authorized user to discharge the weapon. There are several such technologies, but to the best of my knowledge, no smart gun is commercially available in the United States.
Yesterday, a reader asked me address my view about smart guns here in my blog, so here we go. I like the concept of a smart gun a lot. You need not look far to find an example of a police officer killed with his or her own sidearm. When my colleague Deputy Sheriff Craig Dodge was murdered in 1987, his killer, Terry Reynolds, helped himself to Craig's .357 revolver. I would have been glad to know at the time that it was a brick. I also think smart guns could be a good choice for some civilian firearms owners, and would almost certainly avoid a few of the tragic deaths we read about where children have gotten their hands on mom or dad's handgun.
Here's the problem: almost all smart gun technologies rely on electronic components, turning a mechanical device into an electromechanical one. My experience with biometrics, RFID, and Bluetooth LE on other devices has been okay and improving over time, but certainly not flawless. Introducing the need for power makes a smart gun inherently less reliable. Power sources are not permanent, and electrical components add complexity. Recovering from an electronics failure requires time and effort, and sometimes can be really annoying. We see plenty of examples of this in every day life with electronic gizmos from keyless ignitions to remote controls.
I would have to think long and hard about introducing another significant potential point of failure into any device upon which my life could depend. On the other hand, I realize the ever-present risk of my own gun being used against me. In my only encounter where someone was trying to kill me, I came within a gnat's eyelash of just that scenario. I would trade a certain amount of technological failure risk, for the diminished risk of being defeated, disarmed, and killed with my own sidearm. I would need to be convinced that the technology is sufficiently robust to make that trade a wise one.
Basically, whether officer or civilian, I'd like to have the choice. If smart guns were available, I think some people would consider that option, and I think the technology would improve over time. I saw my first prototype smart gun nearly 40 years ago, fitted to a Smith & Wesson revolver. It required the user to wear a ring, without which the trigger would not move. You needed a ring on both hands for ambidextrous shooting. It wasn't electronic at all, rather magnetic. I wonder if that technology is still around, if it has developed at all, and how it might develop if market forces were at work.