Missing from NRA plan: Smart gun technology

The political mood may be more favorable to smart gun safety technology

The National Rifle Association (NRA) today proposed placing armed guards at every U.S. school to safeguard against another mass shooting like the one that took place in a Connecticut elementary school last week.

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said during a lengthy statement today.

Although the NRA has in the past been open to the idea of smart gun technology to make firearms safer, it said nothing about that option today. The NRA has in the past never offered outright support for any legislation that would require smart gun technology in weapons manufacturing.

Smart gun technology was first proposed in the 1990s as a way to prevent police officers from being shot with their own weapons. At one time, as many as 40% of police shootings were attributed to the latter.

Smart guns use biometrics or RFID technology to prevent unauthorized people from using guns by disabling the trigger mechanism.

Under President Bill Clinton's administration, and for a time in the early 2000s, many major gun manufacturers had smart gun development programs, including Colt's Manufacturing Co., Smith & Wesson and Mossberg & Sons.

Between May 2000 and December 2004, the National Institute of Justice's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) granted Smith & Wesson $3 million in grant money to "test 50 prototype electronically-fired handguns and to research possible biometrics that would fit inside a handgun." But an audit performed in 2005 showed that the smart gun technology project had not been completed.

"We found that Smith and Wesson generally complied with grant requirements. We reviewed its compliance with six essential grant conditions and found material weakness in two of the six areas: budget management and control and grant drawdowns," an OJP memo stated. "As a result of the deficiencies identified below, we recommend $36,218 of grant funds be put to better use."

In the mid-1990s, Colt introduced a smart gun prototype using a $500,000 OJP grant. A few years later, it released a Z40, a semi-automatic pistol with a microchip embedded in its pistol grip. The chip used RFID technology in the form of a radio wrist transponder to prevent unauthorized users from firing the weapon.

According to a November 2000 research paper by the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Colt also hoped to develop a consumer model that relied on "cutting edge technology, such as skin conductivity, voice, and/or fingerprint recognition."

Colt's iColt subsidiary -- and its pursuit of smart guns -- was eventually seen as a pariah in the industry.

In 1999, Mossberg subsidiary Advanced Ordnance and electronics design contractor KinTech Manufacturing developed a smart technology using RFID chips that was marketed by iGun Technology Corp. There is no indication from the iGun website that that effort continues, and officials at iGun Technology could not be reached for comment.

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