Earlier this year the National Institute of Justice, (NIJ) part of the U.S. Department of Justice, (DOJ) published a potential list of requirements for the personalized handgun or “smart gun.” After several months the NIJ has published hard requirements that any smart gun must meet before it can be considered for department use.
Smart guns are pistols that scan users for some type of identifier, like a radio I.D. or fingerprint. If the identifying marker isn’t present, the gun won’t function. Smart guns lock out any users that don’t have permission to use them.
Under pressure from the Obama administration, the NIJ put together a set of smart gun requirements for agency use. If a company can make a personalized firearm that meets these requirements then participating departments may adopt it for duty.
If this happens the smart gun concept will take a large step from the fringes of science fiction to use in the real world. Although many individuals and companies have worked on smart gun tech for decades, to-date no one has succeeded at making a viable product that’s suitable for duty or self-defense.
The fact remains that no electronic locking system built into guns has been fast enough or reliable enough for serious users. No one wants a smart gun that doesn’t unlock correctly in a life-or-death situation.
The drive for a smart gun system also has a political element. Smart gun mandates can be used to prevent the sale of conventional firearms to the general public. A smart gun mandate limits the public’s options and drives up the cost of firearms ownership.
And, in theory, some smart gun systems may be disabled remotely, regardless of what the user wants. This is a real concern even among those in law enforcement. Any technology that uses radio to identify authorized users can be jammed, spoofed or otherwise interfered with.
For these reasons and more the NIJ has put together an explicit set of smart gun requirements. These requirements include hard performance, security, and even size specifications.
Personalized firearms must pass a series of performance tests before any agency may consider adopting them for service. Tests include working two-handed and one-handed with both strong and weak hands, unlocking and firing from a holster 250 times without malfunction, and no failures or breakages over the course of 10,000 rounds.
The guns need to function with or without gloves and survive drop tests and environmental testing, including functioning after a salt water bath.
Any gun that exceeds a mean round count between failures greater than 1 in 2,000 rounds will be disqualified. The baseline includes the protocols for agencies to perform any testing on their own and agencies aren’t required to adopt any smart guns even if they pass the tests.
“This … is not a procurement action,” explains the spec sheet. “Any manufacturer’s claim of meeting the specifications herein does not obligate the Government to award a contract.”
As part of the baseline, agencies are urged to consider whether or not it would even be appropriate to adopt smart gun tech. “Agencies that acquire firearms should take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.”
As far as the guns themselves the NIJ isn’t looking for anyone to break the service pistol mold. The requirements specify full-size and compact double-stack striker-fired service pistols chambered for 9mm Luger or .40 S&W.
Any potential duty-grade smart gun will still have to fit in the same general size and weight package as a conventional gun and work just as predictably.
These requirements are not subtle. The NIJ seems to have taken feedback from the original outline to heart.
Whether or not a company will submit any designs for testing is yet to be seen. Even as this tech becomes more feasible, passing these tests will prove to be difficult. And it will be especially hard for any company to develop a smart gun that passes muster with the gun rights community.