Will Smart Guns Actually Save Lives?

Smart guns, like the Armatrix iP1, will only fire for their owner

A green light on the back of the Armatrix iP1 shows the gun is armed. When disarmed, the light is red. Armatrix

The Armatrix iP1 is a smart gun, built so that it can, theoretically, only be fired by its owner. In order for the gun to work, the owner needs to be wearing a special watch. The gun talks to the watch through radio signals. Punching a 5-digit code into the watch arms the gun

Back in October, California approved the sale of the first smart gun in the U.S. and passed a law requiring that all new or imported handguns be smart guns. The smart watch-enabled iP1 isn't the only smart gun in existence; others use rings or fingerprint scanners much to the same effect.

In the U.S., nothing about gun policy simple, and for the Washington Post, Michael Rosenwald explores the politics, economics, and statistics behind the push for smart guns. The technological approach to gun control, he finds, is blurring lines between traditionally pro- or anti-gun camps.

But there's an underlying issue running through Rosenwald's story, aside from all the questions about money and politics—will smart guns save lives? The answer is mixed.

Smart guns probably won't do much to stop people who are intently focused on killing another. What they should be able to do, though, is wipe out accidental shootings—when a child finds a gun, for instance. The same goal, though, could probably be achieved with proper gun storage techniques—keeping weapons in a locked gun cabinet, or unloaded and with the bullets out of reach.

The real power of smart guns would come in the future. If the technology becomes ubiquitous, says Rosenwald, then whole new realms of possibility present themselves. If a radio signal from a watch is needed to turn the gun on, then an overriding signal from outside could be used to turn it off. “The company also has technology that would render guns inoperable if they approached electronic markers — for instance, near a school,” he says.

Smart guns are divisive, because they cut right through the center of the different ways people think about guns. For some, like those who just want to go shoot at the range, the added safety features are probably a perk. Some other people, though, would probably go to great lengths to prevent anyone from having control over their guns but them.

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