90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, February 28, 2013

Could ‘Smart Guns’ Be Part Of Congress Deal?

Michael Recce, associate professor of information systems at New Jersey Institute of Technology and inventor of a "smart gun" technology holds a prototype of the gun with grip recognition technology, during a news conference in Newark, N.J., in January 2004. (Mike Derer/AP)

Michael Recce, associate professor of information systems at New Jersey Institute of Technology and inventor of a “smart gun” technology holds a prototype of the gun with grip recognition technology, during a news conference in Newark, N.J., in January 2004. (Mike Derer/AP)

“Smart guns,” or guns that will only fire for an authorized owner, are back on the radar.

The White House has called for pushing ahead with smart gun technology.

James Bond has one in the movie “Skyfall,” but in the real world, the technology is not quite there yet, according to smart gun activist and investor Jonas McCord.

McCord’s company Biomac Systems is working on smart gun technology, and he’s not alone.

New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, right, points to the handle of a "smart gun" with grip recognition technology, held by the gun's inventor Michael Recce, associate professor of information systems at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J. in January 2004. (Mike Derer/AP)

New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, right, points to the handle of a “smart gun” with grip recognition technology, held by the gun’s inventor Michael Recce, associate professor of information systems at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J. in January 2004. (Mike Derer/AP)

The New Jersey Institute of Technology has been working on a gun that will recognize the owner’s grip.

Trigger Smart, an Irish company, relies on radio frequency embedded in the gun and in a ring or bracelet the owner is wearing. Without the owner’s ring or bracelet, the gun will not fire.

Armatix GmbH, a German company, has a personalized gun it hopes to put on the market in the U.S. this year. The gun will only shoot if it’s in range of a radio device which carries the owner’s biometric data.

The Russian government is also supporting work on an gun with an electronic chip that would prevent unauthorized users from firing it.

McCord tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that the problems with smart guns include:

  1. Many of the technologies require that the owner always be wearing something to fire a gun – not very useful if you are trying to fight off a robber in the middle of the night.
  2. Most existing technologies are limited to one gun authorized for one owner, when most people want to be able to share guns with family members.
  3. The biometric data is usually “graphic” – palm prints, finger prints – and it can be slow to recognize the owner.
  4. Most of the technologies are only about 91 percent accurate.

The U.S. is at risk of being left behind in the arms race for smart guns, McCord said.

He’s calling for a federal Technology Waiting Law like the one New Jersey already has. It would require that once reliable smart gun technology exists, all guns should be required to have the technology.

McCord believes that would provide a financial incentive for industry to develop recognition technologies that would be 99.99 percent accurate, and also be useful for normal commercial transactions.

Would you support requiring all guns sold to be “smart guns,” once the technology becomes widely available? Let us know on Facebook.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • burroak

    This technology is smart, and creates a new component in the current gun legislation debate. 

    • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

      a technology that fails 9% of the times is “smart”?

      would you buy a car that won’t work 9% of the times? if so I don’t want to see your idea of “stupid”

      in order to be acceptable to a gun owner interested in self-defense, you need a technology that is power supply independent, user-wearable item independent, with clear times in the order of the milliseconds and with a fail rate below or at the current rate of failure of a pistol or revolver for other mechanical reasons (firing pin failure, primer failure, powder failure, failure to feed, etc.).

      it simply does not exist yet.

      • burroak

        Thanks Patrick for you reply; so in your estimation what words would you use to describe 91 percent success rate? Idiotic, dumb, inept? Secondly, I was commenting on the technology of hand-recognition. And, thirdly, if your remark” if so, I do not want to see your idea of stupid” was sarcastic, please do not was my time with your narrow-minded tete-a-tete. Thank you.

        • Unlikelyportlander

          As an Electrical Engineer, I know the inner workings of technology.  This technology, as described, utilizes a ring, watch, etc. as means of communication with the firearm.  Any person that has access to said device, has access to the firearm.  How is this any different than using a safe?  Also, setting aside the reliability issues, this device requires a battery to operate.  In the highly unlikely event that I ever have to use my firearm to protect either myself or someone that I care about, will my battery be dead?

          None of my guns have an external safety, each one of my guns is 100% reliable.  I pull the trigger, the gun goes bang.  In the very unlikely event that the gun doesn’t go bang, I pull the trigger again, and I get a fresh bullet.  9% failure rate is completely unacceptable when my life depends on it working.

          • burroak

            Thank you unlikelyportlander for your reply; I do agree with your 9 percent unacceptable margin of error. A question for you: if a gun, hypothetically, had hand-recognition-technology and did not recognize your hand, then how could you fire it? Thanks again for your feedback.

          • Unlikelyportlander

             It doesn’t use hand recognition.  It uses a technology called RFID, which has a sending and receiving unit.  The sending unit is the bracelet, watch, ring etc. and the receiving unit is the firearm.  The sending unit broadcasts a wireless signal, which is then picked up by the firearm, the firearm in turn disables a firing pin block.

            The firing pin block is powered by a relay, which requires electricity.  If the battery is dead, or if you forget to put on your sending unit before you need to use your firearm, then your firearm is rendered useless.

            This technology does NOT recognize an individual.  Also, if a kid criminal got a hold of the sending unit, then they can use the firearm.

            Also, RFID does not have the ability to scramble the signal, so if someone is slightly tech savvy, they could intercept the signal, block the signal, or replicate the signal and use or prevent the firearm from being used.

          • burroak

            Thank you for the information; so, it seems that there are some variables that can effect this technology’s ability. Then, more ideas needed for this technology. Perhaps from more law-abiding gun owners: since they, most likely are well versed firearm safety and function. Thanks.

          • Unlikelyportlander

            This technology will not prevent any gun violence that could have otherwise been prevented by locking up said firearm.  As an individual licensed to carry concealed pistol, I would never consider placing one of these devices on any of my firearms.

          • burroak

            Well said, thanks again for the informative feedback.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      yes a new red herring of technology which does not yet exist

      • burroak

        Thanks Futo for your reply; all current technology previously did not exist, for example, artificial heart. My observation is how could this hand-recognition-technology effect gun violence. If someone does not know your credit card password they cannot use it. Similar idea.

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          they are trying to write laws mandating the use of a technology which does not exist. thats stupid, they may as well require all new energy plants to use cold fusion  
          It seems like criminals dont have much of a problem using people’s credit cards. similar idea

  • Info

    Why is there such an undercurrent of fear and paranoia in gun discussions? This fear that one will have to “defend his family” from hordes of home-invading serial killers, but they might be able to “hack” the electronics of the gun ID system! Sounds like a bad movie.

    • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

      maybe because it is more likely to be a victim of violent crime than being a victim of an accidental firearm discharge?

      one year odds of being a violent crime victim (2011): 1 in 2576
      one year odds of being killed by an accidental discharge (2010): 1 in 516,000
      one year odds of firearm suicide (2010): 1 in 19,375

      I imagine you wear seat belts, yet the rate of car death is lower than the chances of being a violent crime victim (one year odd is 1 in 7750 vs 1 in 2576).

      My gun is my seatbelt against society random crashes on me.

      Who’s paranoid now?

  • aknman49

    “Smart guns” are, in my mind, an oxymoron ranking up there with “compassionate conservative.”   What we need are smart people holding the gun.  Alas, the 99% of crimes and assaults using guns are committed by people who probably need committed.

    • burroak

      A good idea, but what is the probability? Drawing the analogy that we need only responsible people behind the wheel, yet, know for too well that drunk drivers still exist. Thanks for the comments.

    • charles

      In other words, a gun owner should be required to undergo a background check?

      Oh wait, we already have that.

    • poeddroiduser

       How smart is your 6 yr old when he finds Daddy’s gun?

  • J__o__h__n

    Republicans oppose anything smart.

    • Portland Conservative

      Anything smart…
      Like a balanced budget?
      Like if the president really cared about saving the lives of babies, he wouldn’t fund half of planned parenthood, which accounts for over 300,000 abortions annually.
      Like government transparency?
      Like upholding the Constitution?

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    To me you have a choice…

    Either buy a gun that only you can shoot…


    Carry a $10 Million liability policy for every gun you own.

    Take responsibility or Take responsibility…  Those are your only choices.

    • aknman49

      >>Carry a $10 Million liability policy for every gun you own.<<
      I totally agree that gun owners should be required to be accountable for their guns, whether through an insurance policy or legislation making them a default defendant should their weapon be used in a murder or other crime.

      I doubt Adam Lanza's mother would have been worried about being sued over her son's actions but I know that I guard access to my guns very jealously and nobody touches them without my express permission and absolute control.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        yet you don’t have an insurance policy. insurance policys are back doors to confiscation because the insurance companies then would be able to dictate who may own what guns with any oversight from the constitution

    • SocalBrian

      Sorry Call_Me_Missouri, you’re not allowed to post here until you’ve shown proof of insurance for your $10 million first amendment liability insurance (the good news is that the same policy will allow you to legally attend church).

      • keepyourhandsoffmyguns

        YUP and an insurance policy for every knife, bseball bat and hammer.  After all, they cause many times more murders than guns.

        And BTW, biometrics will require a federal registry not only of everyone’s guns but would enable the Fed to know more about you than any sane person would willingly share.

        I keep my guns in an 850# safe.

    • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

      yes, and when I fire my gun in self-defense scenarios and that 9% of  malfunctions happen, and it does not go bang, are YOU going to be criminally and civilly liable for infringing my selfdefense rights and jeopardizing my life?  if so, the company that make the technology would face such steep rates of self-insurance against suits as to force them to withdraw their product from the market before the first item is delivered….it works both ways.

      A firearm main purpose is self-defense. all the other uses (hunting, target, collection…) are not relevant. if the technology is not ready for self defense purposes, it is simply useless.here is the test: when police departments will adopt this technology for their own side arms, I will. before then, keep dreaming… as per your silly “10 million dollar policy”: it makes as much sense as a poll tax or a mandatory voter ID: they tried that already. if the exercise of the enumerated right is substantially affected by the regulatory scheme, the regulatory scheme is unconstitutional. think first amendment when you talk about the second. and think broadly, because if you push for the constitutionality of strong infringement of the second you may end up with infringing the first. that would be like shooting on one’s balls to spite the wife….obviously a limited liability insurance is likely constitutional (say a 100K liability can be purchased from, e.g., NRA-Insurance Services for 150 dollar per year), but one that prevent the exercise of the right like a 3000 dollar per year policy? silly, no.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        what if they choose not to sell policys for certian guns or in certian areas? what recourse would there be?

        • SocalBrian

          That would actually be a good thing as it would result in the courts tossing the the insurance requirement as unconstitutional (unduly burdensome).

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            so we should go down that stupid road?

          • SocalBrian

            We may have little other recourse than the courts in many states, I wish we didn’t but that’s the way it is. Idiot politicians can write idiotic unconstitutional laws and not even get a slap on the wrist. So while I would rather we not have to fight this in court I am grateful for the extreme over-reach as it greatly improves the chances that we will prevail in the end.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            well at this point its not a foregone conclusion there is still the house of reps. the courts are a slow way to fix a problem its not to late to prevent

          • SocalBrian

             How exactly is the house of reps going to help the good people of New York? Yes courts are slow – but they may be our only recourse.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            NY is a tragedy. hopefully there will be a big backlash there and those laws get repealed but at the national level there is still time to prevent the nonsense

          • SocalBrian

            I don’t think there will be a tragedy at the national level – the will is not there. There will be lots of tragedy at the state level; and it doesn’t seem likely to me that those same states will suddenly wake up and repeal these bad laws. We’re going to end up in federal court – the dumber the legislation the better.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            yup we have been on this road for a while in mass and now legal aliens can have guns here but we dont need to go back if we can help it

    • Portland Conservative

       How is carrying  a liability policy going to reduce crime?  A small percentage of crime guns are stolen, so what will this policy accomplish, other than create undue burden on gun owners?  How is this any different than a poll tax?

      If I ever have to shoot someone, it won’t be an accident, it will be because either my life or the life of someone that I care about is in danger.

      What about poor gun owners?  Individuals that are already living paycheck to paycheck.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        disarming the poor is the goal of many gun control efforts

  • J__o__h__n

    Could it read blood alcohol content or drugs and prevent the gun from working?

    • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

      you guys see too many star trek movies…

      sure, now we are going to hook up a $60,000 HPLC with a 200K MS detector to the gun, and we will wait 30 minutes for the analysis before clearing the firearm…..

      what are you guys smoking?

    • Portland Conservative

       No, the “Smart” technology is not that smart.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      if only your computer had that feature

  • Bilbo

    Who wants to own a gun that is NOT absolutely guaranteed to fire when you pull the trigger?  Not me. Not anybody who has ever actually used/fired a weapon.  This magical solution is supported by people who don’t own/use guns, don’t know anything about guns, and just want to eliminate guns altogether.  Am I wrong?

    • Call_Me_Missouri

      Anyone who has a gun with a safety on it I would think.

      • Portland Conservative

         None of my guns have safeties….

      • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

        the best safety is keeping the finger off the trigger, actually…

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        if you have a finger then your gun has a safety

    • anon

      Bro, not a single gun you own is absolutely guaranteed to fire.

      • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

        I don’t look for “absolutes” but while current firearms have rates of  weapon/ammo misfires in the order of 1/1000s (or less, like for revolvers), the technology here proposed has a 9% failure rate on top of the current misfire rates, it depends on a battery (they fail, they wear off, they are cold/heat sensitive etc.) and they are slow-reacting….simply unacceptable

        • falcon1

           the technology goal presented on the program called for a 99.99 percent success rate.  That’s not a 9 percent failure rate.  Finger print technology is 91 percent accurate.  The rate here is better than the rate of ammo or weapon misfires.

          • Jonas McCord

             One requirement for the BIOMAC system is that if the battery fails, or wears out, the weapon return to normal (non smart use).  Biomac would also require that the weapon is brought in every two years for a checkup at a nominal cost… like smog checks.  During this time the battery will be replaced.  The check up will be required to keep the guarantees on the weapon working.

          • Portland Conservative

            So BIOMAC will be in every city and small town?

          • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

            exactly. what will happen is that after the battery runs out, nobody will bother to service it. a trigger lock or a fast-access vault is cheaper.

          • Portland Conservative

             I don’t know what kind of cheap ammo that you are relying on to save your life, but in the thousands of rounds that I’ve fired through my firearms, I’m yet to have a misfire…

          • Portland Conservative

             You need a lesson in statistics, if something is 91% accurate, that means that 91 out of 100 times, the finger print technology will correctly identify the owner.  This leaves 9 times out of 100 for the technology to NOT correctly identify the owner.  Personally, I’m not putting my life at risk for it not working those 9 times out of 100.

          • http://twitter.com/Givemeliberty92 Patrick Henry

            it calls for, but such technology does not exist. when it will and cops adopt it, they you can ask me to use it. before then, keep dreaming.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        with many modern defensive handguns its pretty damned close. like a glock for instance

  • Fmssk

    Granted its for different people with different needs. if you have something with a batterylife(dead) in it i couldnt understand hows thats better than a lockbox. I would not change grips for me its more of art.. and entertainment

  • anon

    It’s a shame we still need weapons development to spur commercial innovations.

  • Portland Conservative

    9% failure rate?  That’s lower than the birth control that we use….

    • Portland Conservative

      Errr… Higher :P

  • Smireles74

    If they infringe on this right? Why wouldn’t they take the others? Are u all asleep? How many more rights and how much more trashing can our constitution take? The new world order is real folks. It is here. Wake up! Or keep paying outrageous taxes to have your freedoms taken from you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cody.f.allen.3 Cody Fargo Allen

    The 4 year old who tragically shot another child found the gun in a night stand and not a gun safe. I appreciate what the gentleman is doing, however, responsible ownership is key. Chatge the parents with involuntary manslaughter. If we must retrofit guns with this technology then let’s retrofit cars with airbags, abs, and tpms.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      lets not

  • Gabekelly

    Come on people now, the solution is for the good to fight evil. As a responsible, non-violent husband and father, I strongly believe it is my responsibility to protect. We are Gods hands, we must be armed to stop evil from harming innocence  Some people forget the world we live in and our individual responsibility in it. I do not see this technology helping the average Joe. 

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    The availability of “smart guns” would not  be an incentive for me to buy a gun. If I wanted a gun, I would already have one.

    I’m sure the current 9% failure rate will be improved upon though I’m not
    sure a finger print system is likely a good choice. What if you cut
    your finger? The gun won’t read through the bandage. And perhaps they have
    improved but I tried a pricey fingerprint reading door lock. Properly
    registered everyone in the family. It either didn’t work, or when it
    did, it was likely as not to “recognize” a different registered person
    than the one doing the finger swipe.

    I can, however, see some benefits of such a system. Plenty of people are injured or killed by a gun that the shooter did not own. Of course, a failure might not be a failure to fire but a failure in recognizing someone who is not the owner. Some kid picks up their parent’s gun and says “It’s OK, it only works for mom/dad, then they kill their sibling or friend. Smart guns would not preclude properly securing one’s weapons.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    “McCord believes that would provide a financial incentive for industry to develop recognition technologies that would be 99.99 percent accurate, and also be useful for normal commercial transactions”
    mark of the beast? this is just another way to back door gun confiscations

  • PersonforRationality

    I have never heard statistics on how often a gun is used to prevent a crime compared to committing a crime but I would almost guarantee that the number for preventions is extremely low. I would assert all these ‘defend the family’ types are operating under a false sense of control a gun gives you, which is played upon in such a disgusting way by the gun manufacturers and their lapdog the NRA to sell more guns and make more money. Don’t be used by corporations, lets examine facts not get bogged down in talking points and hyperbole.

    • Portland Conservative

       In 2011, there were 390 justifiable homicides where a firearm was used.http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cj

      This is clearly old data from 1992, but Bureau of Justice Statistics
      found that annually, 699,999 individuals used a gun in self defense. 
      Over the last 10 years, violent crime has decreased in half, therefore,
      with older statistics, let’s be generous, and say that since 1992,
      violent crime has decreased by 75%.  This estimates that a handgun was
      used in self defense approximately 175,000 times annually.

  • Rob

    I listened to the discussion on my way to work, and was alarmed at the misinformation and biased in favor of the technology. Accidents happen because people don’t secure their weapons. You dont leave your keys in a car or a skilsaw plugged in. You do not leave a loaded weapon unattended or unsecured. I do not do this, and do not have children. Two of my guns have internal mechanical locks. You have to insert a key or remove a plastic piece that disables and uncocks the weapon. With the adition they are placed in high shelf locked cabinet. The comment on the Glock was especialy innacurate. That pistol has been known to fire over 100000 rounds in its lifetime. You can run over-it burry it in the mud, freeze it and it will still fire after years. This is some old B.S. Police holster have special features that prevent the weapon from being pulled and used against him or her. Even if the technology was perfect. It is also impossible to retrofit guns without damaging the gun or limiting its performance or funct

    • Jonasmccord

       You’re right about the glock… it’s a great weapon.  The point of all of this is mute.  With the Russians already announcing a smart weapon technology, and Germany passing a law that if it meets their requirements no other weapon can be bought or sold there or manufactured, and all weapons being retrofitted, the likelihood that once this technology exists Austria and the entire EU will follow, glock will be forced to follow as well.  Bottom line smart weapons are coming, which means that we must make sure that the bar we chose to hold them up to is the same bar glock now holds for its weapons.  A bar that may never be met in our lifetime, but a bar that makes total sense if I was going to own a smart weapon.  Biometric Access in all areas will be the future.  Credit card theft will dictate its development.  The new x-prize for a medical tricorder will move this technology forward.  That’s why we are pushing for tough technology waiting legislation… so tough that only if it works would we be willing to put them on the market.  And by the way, Biomac will not make weapons… it will license its technology to weapon manufacturers for 1 dollar, once the system is developed.

  • Rob

    Another issue with this system is the complete control that government agencies would have on your weapon Or someone with knowledge of the system disabling it.

  • X-Ray

    So, that would mean one couldn’t fire the pistol if you were wearing gloves?

    • falcon1

       not really… biometric sensors would be printed into the glove.  Once the glove is on and it matches the shooters biometrics, then it will work.  If someone steals the glove and puts it on, it won’t match, so it won’t work.

      • Portland Conservative

         What if I forget to put the glove on before the criminal in my house beats me over the head with a baseball bat?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    What good is a smart gun when you have stupid people?

  • X-Ray

    This technology is not ready for Prime Time and should not be a part of any new gun law. 

  • Pashahouston

    to all who criticize this idea: any innovation takes time to workout to a perfect order, nothing comes out right away without improvements followed.. and every genius idea is criticized at first big time !
    i think this is a great way to improve our firearms, they will work on them, they will make them 99.9 %  accurate . that’s if people that love to blindly  criticize things allow it to progress. 

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

August 27 Comment

Veteran Honored, But Struggles To Keep Business Open

Former Marine Matt Victoriano is being recognized as a "Champion of Change" at the White House.

August 27 40 Comments

In Defense Of Schlock Music: Why We Love/Hate It

Music critic Jody Rosen defends the kind of over-the-top, sentimental songs that Journey, Lionel Richie, Billy Joel and Prince made famous.

August 26 8 Comments

It’s Not Business As Usual In Ferguson, Missouri

From barber shops to bike shops, WBUR's Deborah Becker looks at what the protests have meant for businesses.

August 26 95 Comments

A Fan Says No To Football

Steve Almond writes, "our allegiance to football legitimizes and ever fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and even homophobia."