Personalized or childproof guns that can only be used by a specific owner, potentially saving countless lives and preventing accidents involving children, could be viable in the US market, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Gun violence killed 33,599 people in the US in 2014. More than 21,000 were suicides, and over 11,000 were firearm homicides. More than 500 fatalities resulted from unintentional shootings, often involving children.
In 2013, more than 84,000 Americans visited the emergency room seeking treatment for non-fatal gunshot wounds.
Concerned by such figures, President Obama recently called on the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense to find ways to bring gun safety technology into the public arena, to minimize the unlawful use of firearms and to investigate the viability of smart weapons.
The move reflects an increased interest among the US population in the application of technology to minimize gun deaths.
Smart guns, also known as childproof or personalized guns, can help to reduce the incidence of suicide, gun crime and accidental shootings, because they make it harder for people to steal or borrow a weapon.
A smart gun can only be fired after authorization, either by a fingerprint or through radio frequency identification (RFID). The technology is already used to protect iPhones and to lock, unlock and start cars.
A chip could be embedded in an item worn or carried by the authorized user, such as a watch or a ring, which would be used to identify the user. Only after positive identification could the weapon be fired.
Gun makers and gun lobbyists have objected strongly to any law that would require smart guns to be sold in preference to conventional guns.
Based on research from 2013, funded by the gun manufacturers’ trade association, the pro-gun lobby has claimed that only 14% of people would purchase a smart gun. Hence, they are not produced on a commercial scale, and they are not sold in the US.
A team from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health set out to gauge the market for smart guns.
Nearly 4,000 gun owners and non-gun owners completed a nationally representative, online survey in January 2015.
Almost 60% of respondents said they would purchase a smart gun, if they were to buy a gun at all, including 40% of gun owners. The strongest support was among political liberals, at 71%, but 56% of political moderates and 56% of conservatives were also in favor.
Stephen P. Teret, a study co-author and professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management and founding director of the School’s Center for Gun Policy and Research, believes that the use of such technology could save “countless lives that would otherwise have been lost to suicide, accidental shootings and guns getting into the wrong hands.”
Julia A. Wolfson, of the Bloomberg School’s Center for a Livable Future and a PhD candidate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, says:
“The results of this study show that there is potentially a large commercial market for smart gun technology. This has been one of the biggest arguments against smart guns, that people just don’t want them. This research shows otherwise.”
Prof. Teret suggests that smart guns could be profitable for gun manufacturers while reducing the impact of gun deaths in the US.
Medical News Today reported last year that around 9% of US adults with access to guns have anger management issues, increasing the risk of misuse due to impulsive aggression.