McNamara may be one of them. TriggerSmart is developing its own RFID-enabled gun, one that he hopes—like many of the people developing advanced gun-safety technologies—will appeal to law enforcement. That’s one strategy for wider adoption: If gun enthusiasts see police officers and members of the military using a certain weapon, they’re more likely to buy the same thing. “Police officers, they don’t have time to swipe their fingers in a crisis situation,” McNamara told me. “Half the cops in America are going around wearing gloves, anyway. With RFID, as soon as they pick up the gun, it works ... as fast as I can draw the weapon, the weapon is active and ready to fire.”
That’s the idea, anyway. TriggerSmart is still testing its product, a painstaking process, and one that McNamara estimates will take a couple more years. “Because they’re such serious weapons,” he said. “We need to go and test technology rigorously in extreme conditions—in the desert in Africa and in the snow up in Alaska—to make sure that they perform perfectly well.”
Then there are the cultural and political hurdles to overcome. In the United States, especially, guns are part of the cultural identity and inextricable from politics. “It’s quite possible this thing might happen overseas before it ever happens in America. It could be Australia or England or somewhere, where they might develop smart guns first,” McNamara said. In America, anything related to gun regulations—and, by extension, improving gun safety—is so contentious that it may take longer for smart guns to gain acceptance.
“Nobody’s trying to take away guns,” McNamara said. “This is just offering another kind of gun. There’s thousands of types of guns. This is just another one. I don’t think, in any stretch of the imagination, that there’s anything in the president’s announcement that we’re taking away anybody’s guns. But of course there’s the fear-mongering. Paranoid fantasies.”
Hirsch, at the San Francisco-based Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, is more optimistic. But she also, when I asked about how realistic it is to expect smart guns to become widely accepted in the U.S., chose her words very, very carefully.
“We believe that the market demand will drive the gun manufacturers to want to take advantage of this opportunity to provide safer firearms for their customers,” Hirsch said. “I believe smart guns will take time to see broad adoption, but the momentum is building.”
Will Murphy, a Florida detective who’s developing a fingerprint authenticator called Gun Guardian, is more frank: “For a current firearms manufacture to convert equipment over to start producing smart guns is going to be extremely expensive,” he told me. “It’s my opinion that they won’t convert until they see a large demand by the consumer.” (Murphy, for his part, says safe guns already exist: “All firearms are safe when used properly and responsibly,” he said.)