Last January the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum instructing federal law enforcement agencies to take the lead developing “smart gun” technology. Smart guns are firearms equipped with a “security device” that locks out unauthorized users.
To-date there has been only a small amount of interest in developing smart gun technology. Many gun owners see it as a way to increase the costs of gun ownership and so far, the systems haven’t worked with the greatest reliability. The demand just wasn’t there and it remains a controversial issue. This memorandum changes things by putting the onus on the government.to develop workable, reliable smart gun technology.
Now the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has released a draft outlining the requirements. The draft is open to public input until September 13. If you want to see all the requirements and maybe provide feedback, the draft and comment instructions available on the NIJ website.
The requirements are detailed, and they don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Not only are there “security device” requirements, the draft includes specific size, weight and capacity requirements for the guns themselves.
The draft calls for two pistols, a compact service pistol and a full-size model. The outline calls for polymer pistols chambered for 9mm Luger or .40 S&W, though with the capacity requirements it’s leaning towards 9mm. The draft requires that any potential smart gun designs be striker-fired, equipped with 3-dot high-visibility night sights and use interchangeable grips or backstraps in three sizes, small, medium and large.
The NIJ doesn’t describe what type of technology the security device should be based on — that door they left open for designers. Smart gun tech is mostly based on two systems, radio or biometrics. With radio systems as long as the gun is within range of a key — typically a ring or bracelet — it unlocks. Biometric smart guns use sensors in the grip to scan for unique body patterns, like handprints or grip style and strength. Both systems face hurdles.
Biometric systems typically don’t work with gloved hands, which mostly rules them out. The NIJ draft requires that the security system function with and without gloves.
Radio-based systems can be based on simple, low-power and lightweight systems, like RFID tags, or heavier but more secure keys like auto locks. RFID systems can be spoofed pretty easily and both can be jammed. Because of this, the NIJ requires that any security systems that can be electronically tampered with also include some kind of countermeasure detection system.
Most importantly, the NIJ requires that if something causes the security system to fail the guns still need to shoot. The NIJ is also looking for a security system with a manual override — a not-too-subtle acknowledgment that smart gun tech can be a liability if something goes wrong. And something can always go wrong.
They’ve also set a high bar for reliability. If a security system takes any time to disengage greater than the time it takes to draw and shoot, it’s disqualified. The NIJ also requires that the system perform 2,000 draws and fire 10,000 rounds with zero security system malfunctions.
Between the strict size and performance requirements, there’s a chance it may not be possible to develop a suitable “smart gun” to meet these standards. But as this kind of technology keeps shrinking and improving, at some point, it seems likely that someone’s going to bring something to the market — with or without political pressure.
Would you be interested in a “smart gun” if it’s carried by law enforcement? Do you see this as a kind of roundabout gun control? Let us know in the comments.