On Wednesday, June 17th, Dylan Roof entered the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, around 8:30 PM to sit and pray with the churchgoers. Within an hour, nine people were killed and Roof was on the run. Authorities eventually caught the young man in North Carolina, about 200 miles away from the scene of the crime.
Scenarios like this have unfortunately become all too familiar in the United States. According to an extensive investigation done by USA Today, there have been about 250 mass killings in the United States since 2006. A mass killing is defined as four or more victims by their standards. However, the majority of these killings are family/friend related. Public killings, like the one Wednesday night, account for 15% of all mass shootings. Therefore, there have been roughly 38 public mass shootings since 2006. In total, more than 11,000 people die every yearin the United States from gun-related homicides. The gun homicide rate is 3.5 per 100,000 people. In all, people in the United States are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in 22 other high-income countries with a population of over one million people.
I could go on, but I feel I’ve given enough stats. The picture is clear: Gun violence in the richest country in the world is way higher than it should be, and something needs to be done. But this article isn’t about advocating for more gun control. For the purposes of this article, I want to present a solution to this problem that I think advocates of both gun rights and gun control can get behind: the smart gun. Widespread implementation of the smart gun might be able to prevent mass shootings as we move into the future.
What is a Smart Gun?
A smart gun is a firearm that uses technology to restrict firing capabilities to the owner of the gun only, thereby preventing accidental firings. Several forms of technology have been produced to accomplish this goal over the years. One of the recent ones is the Armatix iP1, a semi-automatic pistol that communicates with a watch to unlock it. Essentially, the gun owner wears a watch that transmits a frequency, and the gun can only be fired if the watch is in a specified range of the trigger.
This model has its problem though. For the watch, it’s still very possible for a child to get ahold of that watch. And if the father wanted to wrongfully give the gun to his son or sell it to someone else who otherwise wouldn’t be able to legally purchase a firearm, the watch wouldn’t stop anything.
The best kind of smart gun is one that requires the owner’s fingerprint to fire. A biometric gun that only fires when the owner holds it could prevent future mass shootings for the simple reason that it would make transferring guns from one individual to another impossible.
How Could Smart Guns Help Reduce Mass Shootings?
Dylan Roof, who never would have been able to purchase a firearm legally because he had a felony drug charge pending against him, would not have been able to use his father’s gun if it were fingerprint sensitive. Adam Lanza would not have been able to use hismother’s weapons to murder the children at Sandy Hook Elementary. And this gun, made by Intelligun, is available to order online right now.
There are about 600 people every year in the United States accidentally killed with firearms, 100 of whom are children under the age of 18. Smart guns could significantly lower or prevent these deaths all together. Additionally, 60% of guns in school shootings (according to a 2003 study by the CDC) came from the perpetrator’s home or from a friend or relative.
How Would They Be Implemented?
In 2002, New Jersey passed a law requiring that once a smart gun is sold anywhere in the United States, all gun retailers in the state must phase out traditional guns and sell only smart guns within three years. This law has had an unintended consequence, though – it has given fodder to the typical paranoia espoused by the NRA and other pro-gun rights advocacy groups. They think that the government is trying to take away their guns, therefore, development and sales of these guns in the United States has been all but banned. You won’t find smart guns anywhere in the United States because of this New Jersey law. Gun shops that have moved to sell smart guns have actually received death threatsfrom disturbed individuals.
With these kinds of fears moving through the gun owner community, it will be difficult to sell smart guns unless the law is repealed. Personally, I would like to see the law extended to every state in America, and have smart guns become the only guns sold in America, but this is completely unfeasible. Instead, New Jersey should repeal the law and legislators should assure that smart guns would just be another market option for gun buyers. There is no way the NRA or any other guns right activists could oppose a new product entering the free market. If they do, they are essentially spitting in the face of capitalism and manipulating the firearms market. But if they engage in fear-mongering messages about liberals taking away their guns, gun consumers get paranoid and demand that these smart guns stay off of the shelf, to keep New Jersey from “stealing away” the 2nd amendment rights of its people.
The hope would be that when gun consumers, most of whom are rational individuals, see smart guns available, they will make the switch for the sake of their family. It logically makes sense to have a gun that your child couldn’t use in any instance. Why would any rational person choose a gun that a child could possibly fire over one that a child could never fire? This is the power of a smart gun. It brings firearm safety into the 21st century, and it makes it more difficult for disturbed individuals to take their parents’ guns.
Knowing the ineptitude of Congress and the general unwillingness to implement gun safety measures in the wake of mass shootings, I don’t expect anything meaningful to happen.
However, if we’re ever going to get to a place where mass shootings are a relic of the past instead of a regular occurrence, widespread embracing of smart gun technology might be a crucial first step.
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