Should the Smart Gun Debate Include Smart Ammunition? (Opinion)

Many have called for the widespread implementation of smart guns to crack down on shooting deaths, but embed bullets with tracking chips should be part of the discussion.

by Jessica Van Sack, Boston Herald / May 2, 2016
Armatix intended to produce the first smart gun for sale in the United States. flickr/Gafa Kassim

(TNS) -- The nation is about to embark on an emotionally charged debate about smart gun technology — a debate that will involve everyone from startups to politicians and parents. But that conversation needs to involve smart ammunition.

Embedding a small and cheap radio-frequency identification tag inside a bullet is the greatest step toward increased gun safety that no one is talking about. RFID readers can detect the presence of those chips inside live ammunition, and those readers cost all of $5 or less to make.

It is conceivable that in the future, schools could be outfitted with RFID readers that automatically lock the doors if a bullet is detected within a certain perimeter. The possibilities are endless.

Tokyo-based Hitachi developed the world’s smallest RFID tag in 2006. A dust-sized square measuring .15 millimeters on each side, such a chip would be almost impossible to locate and remove from a bullet.

Of course, smart bullets are best used by smart weapons.

The gun industry is ripe for disruptive innovation and startups have a built-in advantage in that the market is entirely hamstrung by its own establishment — which cannot and will not incorporate new technology.

No major firearms company has touched the smart gun concept since the National Rifle Association led a boycott of Smith & Wesson after its pledge to use technology to increase gun safety in 2000.

Since that time, America’s consumers have begun to expect technological advances, such as fingerprint recognition and biometric identification, as part of everyday life.

And there is evidence that sentiment among gun owners is changing. A 2013 survey by National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry’s trade association, found that 14 percent of gun owners would be likely or somewhat likely to buy a smart gun. With an estimated 15 million guns sold in the U.S. each year, even that small percentage of gun owners constitutes a potential proof of concept.

And a 2015 survey by Penn Schoen Berland, a research firm, found that a whopping 54 percent of gun owners ages 18 to 44 would now swap their current guns for a smart weapon.

The technology is not far off: One German company, Ernst Mauch, sells a smart gun system for about $1,800 that relies on a watch to communicate with a .22-caliber pistol. Florida-based iGun Technology is testing a gun that knows its owner — it can only by fired by someone wearing a special ring.

All it would take to turn these innovations into a mainstream reality is a giant purchase order from the military or federal government.

Based on a optimistic multi-agency report delivered to President Obama on Friday on the future of smart guns, I would expect that giant purchase order will come before he leaves office.

And then there’s a chance that we’ll live in a world where our guns are as smart as our lightbulbs.

©2016 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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