San Francisco Police Chief Offers to Pilot Smart Gun Tech

Speaking at an event sponsored by smart-gun technology proponents, SF Police Chief Greg Suhr said he’d be willing to give tech-savvy officers the option of trying such a device.

by Benny Evangelista, San Francisco Chronicle / February 24, 2016
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr Flickr/ Bryan Velobry

(TNS) -- San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr on Tuesday offered his department as a test bed for smart guns once the technology is more fully developed.

Suhr, speaking at an event sponsored by smart-gun technology proponents, said he’d be willing to give tech-savvy officers the option of trying a weapon that can be fired only by its authenticated owner.

“Officer safety is huge, so you wouldn’t want to compel that upon officers,” Suhr said. “But we have so many officers who are so into technology, I am all but certain there are officers that would be willing to do such a pilot.”

If technology can disable stolen mobile phones, he asked, why couldn’t stolen guns be “bricked?”

“If we in law enforcement had guns that were only of use to the officer identified with the gun, that would be a good thing,” Suhr said. “What if every gun that fell into the wrong hands was of no use to anybody?”

Suhr spoke at a news conference preceding the San Francisco Smart Gun Symposium, which focused on a technology that so far has generated more hope and controversy than sales. The event was sponsored by the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, which is funding smart-gun entrepreneurs, and Washington CeaseFire, an anti-gun-violence group.

The conference comes in the wake of President Obama’s recent 10-point executive order on gun control that included a call for research into smart-gun technology.

The politically powerful National Rifle Association has consistently said it is not opposed to smart-gun technology. But the organization does oppose the government telling gun makers to install specific equipment on their products.

“We just think that it should be for the consumer to decide,” NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter told The Chronicle last month.

Stolen or misplaced guns have become an embarrassment for law enforcement. Last week, a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in San Francisco reported that he drove off after leaving his loaded service weapon on top of his car.

Suhr said there were four Bay Area murders last year committed with guns stolen in auto burglaries. Those included Oakland muralist Antonio Ramos, killed by a gun stolen from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, and Kathryn Steinle, shot on Pier 14 in San Francisco with a pistol stolen from a Bureau of Land Management ranger.

“What if those guns had been useless to the person who did those auto burglaries?” Suhr said. “That’s four people we know would be alive today.”

Smart-gun technology isn’t about gun control, but “about giving consumers the right to chose technologies that will make guns safer,” said Margo Hirsch, Smart Tech Challenges Foundation president.

The symposium focused on guns that use biometric technology to identify the proper owner, much like an iPhone gets unlocked by a fingerprint reader. However, designing a smart firearm is far more complicated than designing a smartphone, because its reliability in life and death situations is critical.

Speakers at the conference said phone fingerprint technology is bringing smart guns closer to market. But smart-gun entrepreneurs said it could be two years or more before current prototypes are ready for testing, and three or four years until production might begin.

To find a market, smart guns must prove to skeptical gun owners that they are as reliable as traditional weapons, said smart-gun designer Ernst Mauch, a former executive of German firearm maker Armatix.

“I’m sure there are some people who want to replace their dumb guns,“ Mauch said. “This is not a toy. It needs to do the job when a soldier or policeman needs it, but it does not need to kill friends.”

Established firearms makers, meanwhile, have shied away from smart-gun technology after the NRA led a 2000 boycott of Smith & Wesson over a deal with the federal government to install smart-gun features in some of its weapons. Within a year, Smith & Wesson’s revenue dropped by 40 percent.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist and longtime gun-control proponent Ron Conway optimistically predicted that half the guns sold in 10 years will be smart guns because “Silicon Valley will come to the rescue.”

“Gun companies are an old-line industry who have decided they don’t want to innovate, so we will help them out,” he said.

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

NEW ON THE PODCAST

Analytics, Blockchain and Cybersecurity at NASCIO