"Smart guns" have technology that can recognize the fingerprint or grip of an authorized owner and guarantee that they're the only person able to fire weapon. They've been around for a while, but haven't been made commercially available in the U.S. due to opposition from gun advocates. Now, though, that might be about to change -- thanks to Obama's recent executive actions on guns.
"If we can set it up so you can't unlock your phone unless you've got the right fingerprint, why can't we do the same thing for our guns?" Obama asked during the heartfelt speech in which he laid out his new gun policies on Tuesday (Jan. 5). "If there's an app that can help us find a missing tablet ... there's no reason we can't do it with a stolen gun. If a child can't open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can't pull a trigger on a gun."
The President then directed the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the Justice Department to either conduct or sponsor research into this kind of smart gun technology.
According to a report from Computer World, the technology to make guns smart has existed for around 20 years, but every time a smart gun has found its way into U.S. stores, gun advocates have found ways to quickly get them back out.
Computer World notes that last year, when a German company attempted to sell the first smart gun in the U.S. in California -- the Armatix iP1, which can be fired only by a person wearing the watch that comes with it -- gun advocates quickly pressured the store's owner into pulling it from shelves.
Soon after that, a Maryland gun store that wanted to sell the same gun announced that it wouldn't after "gun-rights advocates allegedly lashed out on social media, called the store and even threatened its owner," Computer World reports.
There's already a proposed federal law that, if passed, would require all handguns manufactured, sold or imported into the U.S. to eventually include smart gun technology. Though some gun control groups are in favor of smart gun technology, most -- including the NRA -- are very opposed to the possibility that all guns might one day be required by law to be smart guns.
Opponents argue that the technology could make it impossible to use another person's gun in an emergency (which is actually the same reason why some police departments like the idea -- since no one would be able to take an officer's gun and use it against them), and cite fears that the technology could fail at a critical moment.
Smart gun proponents argue that these situations are unlikely occur and that smart guns could save millions of innocent lives, and they are hopeful that thanks to Obama's recent gun law changes, federal funding may actually bring smart gun technology to U.S. markets in the near future.
"It really is going to take federal dollars to move these things from conversation pieces and one-of-a-kind demonstrations to things that have been field-tested and proven worthy of service," Donald Sebastian, senior vice president for research and development at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, told Computer World. "Once you do that, it takes the fear, uncertainty and doubt out of the conversation."
Joel Moshbacher, a Rabbi from Mahwah, N.J. and national co-chair of the gun safety advocacy group Do Not Stand Idly By, told Computer World, "We believe this is a game changer when it comes to the development of this technology."