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Could smart gun technology make us safer?

December 20, 2012 06:02 AM ET

Currently, several government agencies throughout the country have installed or are considering LEID's BACS lockers, including the National Institutes of Health, which adopted the technology to protect its armory in 2009. The U.S. National Park Service is also considering installing lockers in different locations at national monuments for emergency use by its police force, Whalen said.

But such systems would likely be too expensive for home use. Just the kiosk and software for BACS retail for about $18,000. One gun rack is about $8,000, Whalen said.

Political and social climate

Biometrics technology proponents readily admit that their systems can be thwarted, and no single technology or piece of legislation will completely solve the gun safety problem. There are also logistical issues. For example, what if an officer forgets his RFID tag and can't operate his weapon?

"Even if you have smart guns, people can find ways if they are competent enough to get around the technologies," Georgia Tech's Dowling said. "The question as to whether it prevents these mass shootings or not is still open. But it's one more barrier and, in my mind, it's about statistics and probability. If it reduces the probability by a certain percentage, then it's worth it."

Yet, Dowling admits the political and even social climate around gun safety has vacillated over the past two decades. During President Clinton's administration in the 1990s, there was intense interest in the development of the technology, he said. Once Clinton left office, support for the technology evaporated.

One problem, proponents say, is perspective. Gun enthusiasts and organizations such as the National Rifle Association may view smart gun technology as gun control instead of gun safety.

Since President Obama took office in 2009, however, there have been several mass shootings. U.S. army psychologist Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 and wounded 42 others at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009; Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in Tuscon, Ariz. in January 2011, killing six people -- including a nine-year-old girl -- and wounding Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

This year alone, there have been three mass shootings, including James Holmes' rampage in an Colorado movie theater screening of The Dark Knight Rises; Wade Michael Page's shooting of six people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; and Lanza's massacre of 27 in Newtown, Conn. last week

With all those shootings, gun safety proponents said attention may be turning back toward technology as a solution.

For example, NJIT has seen some renewed interest from venture capitalists, Sebastian said, though none from the gun manufacturing industry. "There are a lot of things that conspire against that," he said.

"I want to keep emphasizing that this is about gun safety and not about gun control," he said. "When you change the climate of discussion from gun control, you have people who might be more willing to talk about novel approaches to improving and increasing the safety without it becoming poisoned as a stealthy approach to gun control, and therefore, throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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