‘Smart’ guns with fingerprint sensor, security code headed to US market

“Smart” pistols designed to limit who can shoot them are poised to hit the booming US firearm market this year, taking aim at spiking gun deaths as federal lawmakers remain deadlocked on any new restrictions. Questions over reliability and political fights have bedeviled the technology for decades, but backers say it’s a chance to prevent children, criminals or people considering self-harm from pulling the trigger.

Yet whether the deadly weapons will be embraced by buyers, perform as intended in real-life, or deliver on their pledge to increase gun safety are questions that could be years from a definitive answer. “I don’t have a crystal ball to know whether it’s going to be good on balance, bad on balance or ultimately like other smart guns in the past — kind of a dud,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director at gun control advocacy group Giffords.
The system from entrepreneur Tom Holland’s company SmartGunz uses RFID chips —

similar to the emitters many people use in their car to pay tolls — installed inside rings.
When shooters grip the gun with the hand wearing the special ring, a safety mechanism unlocks, allowing the gun to fire. Holland sees applications in protecting police officers who could have their pistol wrestled away by a suspect; or parents worried their kids could find their firearm.

“This is only about gun safety,” he said. “For those consumers that want a ‘safer gun’…they can have access to this if they feel they have the need for lethal protection on their property.” He expects his pistol, which he said is being tested by some police in the United States, to begin selling to civilians by April or May.

Any sales would arrive in an unprecedented context in the United States, where some 40 percent of adult Americans live in a gun-owning household, according to the Pew Research Center. Firearms sales set a record in 2020, with nearly 23 million sold, according to the Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting consultancy.

Following racial justice protests and the onset of the pandemic, the United States saw in 2020 its biggest rise in homicides since national records began in 1960 — though overall levels of killing remained below the 1990s. The recurrent horror of America’s mass shootings provoke intense bursts of attention, but over half the roughly 40,000 annual firearms deaths are suicides. Ginger Chandler, the co-founder of smart gun maker LodeStar Works, said the user authentication steps are a physical buffer against accidents, suicides and crimes — and a psychological barrier.