President Barack Obama is directing the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to sponsor research into modern technologies that could help keep children, criminals, and the mentally ill away from guns, according to the president’s new memorandum on Promoting Smart Gun Technology.
A 2013 study undertaken by the Justice Department concluded that smart gun technologies could significantly reduce accidental deaths and other incidents of violence involving stolen guns. Since then, millions of Federal dollars have been invested in research into new gun control technologies. Now the president wants the Pentagon, DOJ, and DHS to deliver a strategy within the next 90 days that will significantly expedite the deployment of such technologies.
The memorandum, released Monday, directs the agencies to “conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms, and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns,” such as devices requiring a scan of the owner’s fingerprint before a gun can fire.
“For more than 20 years, the Federal Government has worked to keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks. This critical effort in addressing gun violence has prevented more than two million prohibited firearms purchases from being completed,” Obama wrote. “But tens of thousands of people are still injured or killed by firearms every year—in many cases by guns that were sold legally but then stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally. Developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority.”
Obama likened the effort to what government and industry have cooperated on in other areas, such as making cars safer and improving the security and privacy feature on tablets and mobile phones. “We know that researchers and engineers are already exploring ideas for improving gun safety and the tracing of lost or stolen guns. Millions of dollars have already been invested to support research into concepts that range from fingerprint scanners to radio-frequency identification to microstamping technology,” a fact sheet on the president’s executive action states.
Between 1998 and 2013, the Office of Justice Programs has sponsored more than $12 million in research on gun safety technologies. Still, more than 100,000 people have died in the U.S. during the last decade due to gun violence.
The personalized safety and authentication mechanisms that Obama is seeking to speed to market are known more broadly as smart gun technologies.
One early prototype designed by SafeGun Technology involved a shotgun with an authorization system that utilizes a fingerprint identification sensor module. The weapon remained in an armed status as long as a hand applies pressure to the grip. If pressure is released on the grip or the gun dropped for longer than one second, the system de-authorizes. No finger is necessary on the scanner after initial authorization, provided pressure to the grip is maintained.
Other companies, including iGun Technology and TriggerSmart, have developed prototype handguns, rifles, and shotguns that use a custom lower receiver equipped with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips. The RFID chip receives authorization codes from a ring or a watch worn by the user and that authorization initiates a procedure in the weapon that unlocks it and enables it to fire. The passive token carried by the user can even be worn permanently beneath the skin.
Biometric technologies have been a central focus of effort for smart gun technologies, including fingerprint, palm print, and dynamic grip sensing technologies.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking and is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, according to the White House.
In addition, the FBI has partnered with the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) to modernize the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was created by Congress to prevent guns from being sold to prohibited individuals. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the background check system has prevented more than 2 million guns from getting into the wrong hands.
Although NICS has been routinely upgraded since its launch in 1998, the FBI is committed to making the system more efficient and effective, so that as many background checks as possible are fully processed within the three-day period before a dealer can legally sell a gun even if a background check is not complete. “The improvements envisioned by FBI and USDS include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to improve overall response time and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to purchase a firearm,” according to the White House fact sheet.
Video Demonstration: iGun Technology Corp.