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The Need for a Smart Gun
According to FBI statistics in 2005 twenty percent of cops shot in the line of duty were shot with their own gun, and there were twenty-four deaths resulting from school shootings (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/add info .htm). These statistics demonstrate some potential benefits of smart gun technology.
As stated in the introduction, a smart gun can only be operated by its legal owner, therefore they may reduce the likelihood of firearm injuries to young children and law enforcement officers. Police armed with a smart gun could never be shot by a criminal who had managed to wrestle their
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gun away from them. Since children cannot legally purchase
firearms they would not be able to accidentally discharge them or use them in school shootings. Firearms that were stolen would be useless.
How Smart Guns Operate
There are a number of technologies in existence that can be used to personalize guns. The simplest of these technologies are variations on the mechanical locks that are already in existence. Some of these smart locks require the owner to type in a code on a keypad to unlock the device, others use a fingerprint scanner to unlock the device.
The fingerprint scanner and keypad have also been integrated into the firearm instead of being located on a removable locking device. America's largest gun manufacturer, Smith & Wesson, has developed a prototype which only allows the magazine to be inserted after it has verified the owners thumbprint (http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/ 2000/May/263nij.htm). German manufacturer Sig Arms has a gun which requires the owner to type in the proper combination of numbers before the gun will activate (Gromer , 2003 p35).
Other technology that is currently being tested requires the gun owner to wear a ring, wristband, or watch which activates a computer within the gun allowing it to fire. Colt currently has a prototype which uses a ring or
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More sophisticated technology which does not require the owner to wear any special device or do anything but pick the weapon up and fire it is many years away. The New Jersey Institute of Technology say's that such a gun could recognize the owner in several ways, including fingerprint, and voice, as well as patterns of bones, arteries, and veins in the hand (http://www.njit.edu/publicinfo/newsroom/ Spotlight_smartgun.php).
Shortcomings of Smart Guns
At first thought it seems like a great idea. A gun that can determine if the person holding it is an authorized user. Homeowners want it because it eliminates the danger of their kids or anyone else using it. The cops surely want it, because it eliminates the danger of a bad guy getting hold of their weapon and turning the tables. What's not to like?
The biggest drawback comes as a result of integrating computers and guns. Besides being very complicated, this is quite expensive. The expense in developing these guns
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translates into a larger price tag for the consumer. Douglas Overbury, Colt's vice president of engineering, says that smart technology will add about fifty percent to the cost of
a new pistol ("Smart guns," 1996).
Aside from difficulty and cost there is the issue of reliability. A handgun, with its shocks, vibrations, and corrosive emissions, is not the best environment for a piece of sophisticated electronic hardware. Another aspect of reliability requires a that a gun be able to fire when it is needed. There are many situations in which a gun owner needs to use the gun in less time than it takes to type in a code or use a fingerprint scanner. The most reliable of these technologies are the ones which require the owner to wear some sort of device which enables the gun to fire. Even these are considered to be only around eighty percent reliable, because of their reliance on batteries. There have also been instances during testing in which the devices that emit radio signals have been jammed by outside interference.
The bottom line is that smart guns just aren't the solution to as many problems a people think they are. The creation of smart guns would not eliminate all other guns. People who want to get around smart technology would merely use guns other than smart guns.
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Too many people have had experiences in which electronic equipment failed. Nobody wants their life to depend on a technology that is as reliable as Windows. While the problems that smart guns are attempting to solve are important there are better solutions. Guns are constantly being updated with systems which prevent them from accidentally discharging. The solution to children getting their hands on guns and using or accidentally firing them is for gun owners to be responsible. Guns should always be kept in a safe location where children can't get to them. The solution to police being shot with their own guns is better training.
Smart guns may have their place, but that place is in the future. As technology becomes more reliable and smaller the production of a feasible, reliable smart gun may be possible.
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(1996). Smart guns allow only authorized users to shoot. The Michigan Daily Online. Retrieved March 15, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.pub.umich.edu/daily/1996 /sep/ /09-16-96/news/news13.html
(2000, May 12). Justice department to fund additional smart gun research and development. Retrieved March 15, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/ 2000/May/263nij.htm
(2005, January). Smart gun technology works. Retrieved March 15, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.njit.edu/ publicinfo/newsroom/Spotlight_smartgun.php
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved March 15, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/ homicide/addinfo.htm
Gromer, Cliff (2003, July). "Smart" Guns: Dumb Idea! Popular Science, 34-36.