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Very Few Gun Owners Want To Buy A Smart Gun

Inventor Kai Kloepfer displays his fingerprint-activated smart gun during a gun safety technology expo in Milwaukee on Jan. 16, 2019.
Inventor Kai Kloepfer displays his fingerprint-activated smart gun during a gun safety technology expo in Milwaukee on Jan. 16, 2019.

Smart guns, also known as “personalized guns,” use technology like fingerprint readers or radio frequency identification (RFID) to let only authorized users unlock the gun and fire it.

New research shows many gun owners aren’t interested in purchasing them.

Expanding The Market

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found 48% of the gun owners surveyed had heard of smart guns.

The survey, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, was conducted online in 2016 and surveyed only self-identified gun owners.

About 80% of the survey’s 1,444 respondents thought sellers should make guns using the technology available.

But less than a fifth were likely to purchase one.

Guns equipped with smart gun technology are meant to decrease instances of accidental shootings, say by children stumbling on a parents’ loaded gun in a nightstand. Cassandra Crifasi, one of the study’s authors, said to see significant benefits the market needs to expand beyond the 20% who would consider buying a smart gun.

“Among the current gun owners reporting being likely to purchase a personalized gun, safe storage behaviors were already really common,” Crifasi said.

The Role Of Safe Storage

In another survey of the same group, researchers found that less than half of gun owners safely store their guns. The researchers defined safe storage as having: “all guns stored in a locked gun safe, cabinet or case, locked into a gun rack or stored with a trigger lock or other lock.”

That same year, 1,600 children under the age of 18 died from gunshot wounds. Thirty-nine percent of those deaths were by suicide.

The hope is that safe storage practices could reduce that number.

According to Crifasi, policymakers could look to a government mandate requiring safe storage or to smart gun technology in order to change many gun owners’ behaviors.

In 2016, when Crifasi’s study was being conducted, the only smart gun that had reached the market in the U.S. was the Armatix iP1.

It performed poorly with consumers. A scathing review from the National Rifle Association raised concerns about its high cost, the reliability of the technology and that it was too small of a caliber to be useful for self-defense.

In the years since, new technology has become available and public officials in parts of the country have come together in support of such innovations.

The biggest concerns among gun owners surveyed in Crifasi’s study were the added cost of the technology and the chance a smart gun could fail to unlock when needed.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2021 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.

Matthew Richmond