The debate over “smart guns” continues unabated and now there’s a new contender stepping into the ring… sort of. Tanya Basu at the Daily Beast has the story of Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, who launched a competition for students in 2016, seeking a winning design for a smart gun that people might actually want to use. He saw it as, “a potential compromise between gun rights and gun control activists.”
One of the teams answering the challenge was composed of Sy Cohen, Ashwin Raj Kumar, and Jonathan Ng, students at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. These kids are smart, and I’m not saying that sarcastically. The process of trial and error they went through, along with the lessons they took from it was impressive. They realized that nearly every modification they made to a standard handgun resulted in the firearm becoming too heavy, large or bulky. Other modifications made the weapon too slow to activate, rendering it useless in an emergency. These, they said, were all characteristics which would turn potential gun purchasers off. (I told you they were smart.)
So how did they wind up winning the competition? They abandoned the idea of producing a usable smart gun and instead developed a smart holster.
Cohen recalled looking at Raj Kumar and feeling as if they had the exact same idea at the same time: It wasn’t about re-jiggering the gun’s anatomy. They had to make an accessory to the gun, something that was not permanent but could be taken off when being used, then re-attached when not.
Clarke said the genius of the system—unlike any other smart gun that has been made available thus far—is that there is a two-step hierarchy involved in unlocking the gun, ensuring that only the user can access the gun. Unlocking a gun kicks off with a fingerprint scanner. If the fingerprint scanner succeeds in identifying the fingerprint of the person, the user can access step two: checking to see if you’re in range. A radio frequency identification (RFID) tag is on the user’s person within a short distance, and the holster checks to see if the tag is in range. “It’s similar to keyless car entry,” Clarke said, explaining the RFID tag.
There’s a video at the linked article where they explain in further detail, along with providing some simulations of how the device works. It’s basically a block-shaped cover in two parts which require a fingerprint scan and an RFID chip from the legitimate owner. If those match up, the device opens up and you can access the gun. If those bits of technology fail there’s a voice-activated back-up. They claim that it can be accessed and opened in under two seconds. Many gun owners will be suspicious of that of course, and there are other problems with this design theory which I’ll get to in a moment, but at least they’re thinking in the right direction.
Unfortunately, there’s one more area where these young inventors turn out to be intuitive yet naive at the same time. The team clearly understands that there would little to no opposition to such an offering on the market, provided the government wasn’t forcing everyone to use it.
“The NRA doesn’t oppose the development of ‘smart’ guns, nor the ability of Americans to voluntarily acquire them,” Clarke said. “The NRA opposes any law prohibiting Americans from acquiring or possessing firearms that don’t possess ‘smart’ gun technology. As a gun owner, I should be able to go into a licensed dealer and purchase a smart gun. This is all about safety and providing consumers with options.”
Ah, to be a young, cockeyed optimist with a sunny disposition like that. Unfortunately, these students don’t seem to have much experience in politics. Clarke is saying that they just want to offer a smart technology option for people to choose. And that’s fine. There may be folks out there not really worried about home protection in an emergency and who primarily want to make their firearms extra secure around their children. And if they have the money (because this is obviously going to cost a bundle) then it might be right up their alley.
But this is the government we’re talking about. Once such technology is out there, somebody is going to try to make it mandatory and you know it. The attitude these young entrepreneurs are taking is like the person who invents dynamite to blow tree stumps out of the ground and then acts surprised when someone from the government comes along and thinks of something else to do with it.
Personally, I think this smart holster will wind up having any number of problems, depending what your personal needs are. But as long as it’s not mandatory, I suppose I could see where it might be attractive to a certain subset of consumers. Unfortunately, once the smart holster genie is out of the bottle you’ll be fighting a fresh battle with the anti-Second Amendment crowd the very next day.