When Dave Hellekson invented the Pumalock Interrupter, he hoped to fund his new venture by launching a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. While the popular website prohibits funding for “weapon accessories,” Helleckson’s quick-access gun lock is, by definition, not an accessory.
That’s why he was surprised when Kickstarter instantly rejected his campaign. Assuming the company’s bots had mistakenly flagged his product, he reached out to a customer service agent, who replied:
“We disallow any weapons accessories regardless of their intended use. As such, we would not be able to approve this project, per both Kickstarter’s rules and the rules of our payments processor.”
Hellekson has initiated an official appeal, but this rejection means he’ll miss the crucial Christmas buying season so essential to startup businesses. He also feels like Kickstarter has singled him out due to his product’s connection to the gun industry.
“I don’t like being discriminated against like this, particularly on a legal product,” he said in an interview with GunsAmerica. “It really sucks, to be honest. I was absolutely furious this weekend when they sent me the refusal letter. It doesn’t make sense. Why would they want kids to die?”
Hellekson argues that the Pumalock Interrupter should not be categorized as an accessory because it doesn’t enhance the beauty, convenience, or effectiveness of a firearm, as most dictionaries define the word “accessory.” Unlike a trigger or a light or a sighting system, Hellekson’s fingerprint lock impedes the functioning of a firearm. The simple cable runs through the firearm’s receiver and keeps it from being used until the owner unlocks it with his or her fingerprint.
If Kickstarter doesn’t come through, Hellekson isn’t sure where he’ll find another investor. The corporate crusade against the firearms industry—what he calls a “program of discrimination”—doesn’t end with Kickstarter. The other major crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, has the same policy against firearm “accessories,” and Hellekson’s applications for business loans have been rejected by both Bank of America and Chase.
“If you even mention guns, they slam the door shut on you,” he said. “I find it very frustrating. Weapons are part of the Constitution. How can these businesses ignore that?”
Kickstarter did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
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Hellekson isn’t alone. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of inventors have faced similar blacklisting, and the marginalization of the gun industry could have long-term effects on both the industry and America’s national security.
That’s the argument made by Larry Lopata, the CEO of Gun Dynamics, a crowdfunding website specifically dedicated to firearms-related products.
Lopata helped start Gun Dynamics after being rejected from Kickstarter for trying to fund a new kind of 1911 trigger. But he soon realized that helping inventors working on gun-related products could have much larger consequences.
“If you’re going to repress a perfectly legitimate business, what’s next? I felt there was a real patriotic, constitutional line that was being drawn,” he told GunsAmerica. “Russia and China are building their militaries. Our army is all beat up. These [inventors] are the guys who might have the next great idea to keep us safe, to help us keep our competitive edge.”
While he respects Kickstarter’s freedom to institute their own policies, he believes investing in gun-related inventions is crucial to our country’s continued dominance on the world stage.
“I understand why they’re doing it, but I find it reckless and dangerous,” he said. “It’s like cutting your nose to spite your face. These [inventors] can’t get loans. They’re on the second mortgage of their house. We realized we really needed to support these people.”
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Gun Dynamics launched in April of 2018 and was immediately flooded with inquiries. Lopata said they expected 10 or 12 projects in the first year but received over 30 inquiries in the first 30 days. Today their website lists eight products in which individuals can invest, and the team at Gun Dynamics also helps connect inventors with lawyers, accountants, and law enforcement experts.
Even more importantly, Lopata said the U.S. military is evaluating five or six of the technologies that had initially approached Gun Dynamics after being rejected by companies like Kickstarter.
“So exactly what I feared happened! These people had nowhere to go,” he said.
One of those products is designed by a company called Dimensional Weapon Systems. It allows users to track and record via blockchain encryption the movements of a firearm, including when a shot is fired. It also alerts users when the firearm needs to be repaired or retired. The U.S. Army is currently reviewing this “smart gun” system, and officials hope it will be able to diagnose more efficiently when a rifle needs to be repaired or replaced.
Lopata didn’t want to speculate on Kickstarter’s rationale for rejecting these kinds of potentially life-saving technologies. But he did acknowledge that, on the surface, the decision doesn’t make sense.
“I think you have a situation where people have emotional responses over rational responses,” he said. “I don’t mind if you have an educated opinion on something, but I do get concerned when you have an emotional opinion on something, and you can’t back it up with facts.”
Hellekson has approached Gun Dynamics, and his product is in the initial review process. Lopata hopes he and his team can help inventors like Hellekson when no one else will.
“He’s exactly the reason we started this.”