Are smarter guns the solution to gun violence?

Gun control is a constant debate in our society and one that has come up more than once in our TechTables. On one side we have those fighting for the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms without government intervention. On the other are those who want more regulation and limits to who can purchase guns and what types. One solution proposed aims to please both sides: make guns smarter. The general idea behind this is to “use technology to prevent gun misuse.”1 T4A.org board member Ron Conway has been a driving force behind this idea and, along with Jim Pitkow, launched an open challenge with $1 million in prizes for the best ideas to make guns safer.

One idea that is quickly gaining popularity is Omer Kiyani’s “Identilock.” Similar to the iPhone 5s fingerprint unlock, Identilock is a device that “attaches to the trigger of a handgun, which can then only be unlocked by biometric authentication, preventing any unauthorized user from firing the weapon.”2 CNN reports that Kiyani’s device is slated to enter the marketplace within a year, but it may not be the first of it’s kind.  In February, Armatix, a German firm, “launched its iP1 pistol that uses a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip activated by the owner’s watch.”3  This shows that the space is quickly growing for smart guns and with more ideas being introduced, we could see an increase of these devices in the marketplace.

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From a political side, I think smart guns are a great idea. A common theme among our TechTables has been trying to find areas on which Democrats and Republicans agree and I think this could be one of them. Smart guns enhance safety without infringing on one’s Second Amendment right. The technology raises some interesting questions from a societal viewpoint though. Will smarter, safer guns mean that we will actually end up with more guns? Will people who didn’t want to own guns before change their minds? And finally, is more guns in our society, even if they’re safer, a good thing?

In fact, there is research that suggests that more guns may lead to more violence. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2013, the rate of gun ownership is positively correlated with homicide rates. Specifically, the Boston-based researchers found the following:

[quote author=” “]”Gun ownership was a significant predictor of firearm homicide rates (incidence rate ratio = 1.009; 95% confidence interval = 1.004, 1.014). This model indicated that for each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9%.”4[/quote]

While correlation does not equal causation, the data is intriguing. Making guns smarter will cut down the number of accidental deaths, but can it make a dent in those that are caused purposefully? More concerning, could it actually increase the number of these deaths?

References

1Monks, K. (2014). CNN. “The guns that know who is firing them: Can smart tech make firearms safer?” Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/26/tech/innovation/smart-guns-know-whos-firing/

2See footnote 1.

3See footnote 1.

4Siegel, M., Ross C., & King, C. (2013). Gun Ownership and Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981–2010. American Journal of Public Health, 103 (11), 2098-2105. http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301409?journalCode=ajph

Featured image via CNN