Smart Guns and Gun Locks: Should You Use Them?

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In recent years, the topic of so-called “smart” guns and locks — or “personalized” guns — has been studiously avoided within the industry. It’s a hot-button topic, one with tendencies to stir debate and not worth potentially alienating or upsetting readers. Until today. Today we’re going to take an unvarnished look at the realities of smart guns and smart gun locks and whether or not they’re a good idea. Smart guns aren’t just a possibility someday; they’re a current reality, and the sooner we as an industry address them, the better.

*Side note: The opinions expressed herein are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the USCCA.

SHOT Show 2016 and Identilock

Three years ago, I attended a meeting for the purpose of scoping out the owners and designers of a product. The meeting was with Identilock, the maker of a “smart” gun lock. Identilock had upped its timetable after then-President Obama wrote a number of executive orders regarding gun control that included a proviso for smart gun technology. The company ended up with a tiny booth on the New Products floor of SHOT 2016 — a floor that’s really a hallway packed with hopeful new exhibitors, conveniently positioned right outside the NSSF Media Room. When I arrived, the booth was surprisingly lacking in foot traffic. The empty space surrounding Identilock’s tiny booth did at least give us some semblance of privacy, something typically lacking at SHOT. I ended up spending more time with the folks there than I intended. Here’s what I learned.

A slick IdentiLock Smart Tech lock sales sheet showing the device locked to he trigger guard of a silver and black pistol with call-out feature captions.

You can program multiple fingerprints into the Identilock, but a fingerprint must be precisely positioned before it’s recognized. (Photo Credit: Identilock)

Great Idea, But…

In the case of Identilock, the men behind the product aren’t exactly gun lovers. The trio of men I met that day included only one who claimed to own a gun — a shotgun, for shooting clays — and all of them were glaringly lacking in firearms knowledge. In the years following that meeting, press releases and quotes have emerged painting a more gun-friendly, gun-loving picture of them, but based on my experience, those things aren’t exactly true. They were enthusiastic, friendly and professional, but not experienced gun owners or shooters. The product’s design and development were based on their shared knowledge of smart tech, and they were simply tapping into an obvious opening in an enormous market (wisely, I might add). What the design and development were not based on was any understanding or comprehension of firearms, firearms safety or firearms function. That is all too common a problem.

Does the Smart Gun Lock Work?

If you’re wondering whether the smart gun lock in question works, the answer is twofold: Yes and no. The lock showed up for a review some time later and, in trying to make it work, I discovered that although it does indeed lock, it doesn’t unlock with ease.

Claims you can program multiple fingerprints to it are true; claims your fingerprints are immediately recognized are not. More importantly, the idea that the lock can be removed quickly and easily isn’t accurate at all. Your fingerprint must be precisely positioned, the scanner does not respond well to dirt or moisture, and the lock does not “fall off” as promised. Also, your grip needs to be shifted to accommodate the use of the biometric scanner. Then there is the fact that it has a tendency to get hung up on the trigger guard, requiring it be shaken free or removed with both hands.

Would I trust my life or the life of my daughter to a handgun with a smart gun lock affixed to its trigger guard? Absolutely not.

Other Smart Gun Options: Armatix & iGun

Of course, there are other smart tech products in the gun world. There’s the Armatix — a .22-cal, 10-round smart gun featuring an electronic chip that only allows the gun to function if the person holding it is wearing the matching watch with the right radio frequency signal (RFID) — and the iGun, which requires the user to wear a ring emitting a low-frequency radio signal. An assortment of radio frequency and fingerprint-activated guns and locks have been trickling into the market for years. In fact, the iGun’s roots reach back two decades — and the market will only broaden as time goes on.

A small gray smart gun emblazoned with American flag graphics standing beside an RFID watch and a hard-sided case.

Smart gun technology continues to evolve. (Photo Credit: Armatix)

Also of note is a product currently known as gUNarmed that’s designed to not only track firearms but also disable them. gUNarmed is in its infancy, but it’s still a sign of things and methods to come.

Self-Defense Scenarios

The realities of smart gun tech use in self-defense are on the grim side. A handgun sporting a smart gun lock seems great until it’s the middle of the night and you’re fumbling to press your sweaty — or bloody — fingerprint to it as an assailant enters your home. Your index finger — any finger — could be broken, mangled or otherwise useless. You could have only split seconds to get your gun on target and lose precious time struggling to shake the lock free. Your watch or ring could be lost, destroyed, disabled or hacked.

You’ve heard the phrase, “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away,” right? Well, when seconds count, smart gun tech is only minutes from working. It doesn’t matter if the use of smart tech costs you five minutes or five seconds; in a violent assault, you don’t have five seconds to fumble your way to a functioning firearm.

Smart Tech Possibilities

Could there be possibilities for smart tech in the gun world? Maybe, but is it worth the risk? The idea of a smart gun set to function only in the hands of an authorized user sounds promising until you consider the full, broad implications. And the thought of a smart gun lock looks good on the surface until you realize you’re trusting a piece of electronics to wrap itself around your trigger and trigger guard, let go the instant you need it to unlock and not hinder reaction time. You’re trusting a watch or ring to be present and functioning.

There are myriad possibilities for failure. Is smart tech trying to carve a path in the gun world? Yes, but it is utterly fraught with potential disaster. For example, hackers showed they could overpower the controls of the Armatix by utilizing a handful of magnets costing about $15.00. How do you know your smart gun was hacked? You don’t …. until you attempt to use it and it fails.

Bottom Line on Smart Tech and Smart Guns

Although there may seem to be applications for smart tech in firearms, it does not seem worth the risks involved. From hacking to failure to read fingerprints to an RFID watch or ring simply being too far away to work, the list goes on. Many, if not most, proponents of smart gun tech state the products are the best or only way to combat active killers, but that is patently untrue. Soft targets such as those known to be gun-free zones are what attract active killers on an overwhelming basis, so why not do away with those? Why not encourage training and proficiency? Creating failure points in something meant to defend your life makes no sense at all. One could say it isn’t, dare I say, “smart.”

What do you think?

About Kat Ainsworth

Outdoor writer Kat Ainsworth has been carrying concealed for 15 years and hunting for more than 20 years. She writes for a variety of industry publications, covering hunting, ballistics and self-defense, though she has a background in K9 Search-and-Rescue and emergency veterinary medicine. Kat calls Marshfield, Wisconsin, home, but she enjoys traveling as part of her gun-related lifestyle. She has yet to find a firearm she didn’t want to fire.

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