It sounds, at first, like a bold, next-generation solution: personalizing guns with technology that keeps them from firing if they ever get into the wrong hands.
But when the White House called for pushing ahead with such new technology as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to cut gun violence, the administration did not mention the concept’s embattled past. As with so much else in the nation’s long-running divisions over gun rights and regulation, what sounds like a futuristic vision is, in fact, an idea that has been kicked around for years, sidelined by intense suspicion, doubts about feasibility and pressure tactics.
Now proponents of so-called personalized or smart guns are hoping the nation’s renewed attention on firearms after the Newtown school massacre will kick-start research and sale of safer weapons. But despite the Obama administration’s promise to “encourage the development of innovative gun safety technology,” advocates have good reason to be wary.
In the fiery debate over guns, personalized weapons have long occupied particularly shaky ground — an idea criticized by gun-rights groups and some gun-control advocates.
To the gun groups, the idea of using technology to control who can fire a gun smacks of a limitation on personal rights, particularly if it might be mandated by government. At the same time, some gun control advocates worry that such technology, by making guns appear falsely safe, would encourage Americans to stock up on even more weapons then they already have in their homes.
Without the politics, the notion of using radio frequency technology, biometric sensors or other gadgetry in a gun capable of recognizing its owner sounds like something straight out of James Bond. In fact, it is. In the latest Bond flick, “Skyfall,” Agent 007’s quartermaster passes him a 9 mm pistol coded to his palm print.
“Only you can fire it,” the contact tells the agent. “Less of a random killing machine. More of a personal statement.”
In real life, though, there’s no getting around the politics, and the debate over personalized guns long ago strayed well beyond questions of whether the technology will work.