A "smart gun" demo device as demonstrated by the company SmartGunz during Shot Show 2022
A "smart gun" demo device as demonstrated by the company SmartGunz during Shot Show 2022 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Are ‘Smart Guns’ About to Change the Market? [Member Exclusive]

The week saw another entrant in the race to bring a so-called smart gun to market.

On Thursday, Biofire announced a prototype handgun featuring integrated biometric locks. The company said it plans to start shipping guns to customers by the end of this year. But it isn’t alone in that goal because Smartgunz, a company that debuted a prototype at last year’s Shot Show, said it plans to start shipping its RFID-lock-integrated guns in the next few months.

So, it appears smart guns will soon be more than just a work of fiction. And the world will get to see how well they can compete in real life.

Because there haven’t been any public reviews of the Smartgunz 1911 at all. An incomplete prototype was on display last year. The company claims initial test models were shipped out to law enforcement partners in January. But there don’t appear to have been any public range days for it or public reviews yet.

Biofire has been a bit more open with its working prototypes. The company already invited the YouTube channels Forgotten Weapons, DutchInTheUSA, and a Bloomberg reporter to try it out. And it appears to be further along in development than any previous model.

It’ll have to be if it hopes to overcome the significant reliability concerns gun owners are bound to have about a gun with integrated electronic locks, especially one designed for home defense use.

After all, if you are betting your life on a gun, you need to know it will work each and every time you pull the trigger. Any potential failure point is a potential reason not to buy a gun. And gun enthusiasts can be very picky about these sorts of things.

Take the Series 80 1911 for example. That slight redesign by Colt incorporated a firing pin safety designed to prevent potential drop firing. The mechanical safety is relatively simple, made up of just four parts, but a substantial contingent refuses to buy 1911s that use this design.

Now, imagine adding a fingerprint sensor to that equation. Or a facial recognition camera. Or a specialized piece of RFID-embedded jewelry. Or a battery that needs to be kept charged.

On top of that, imagine building a new gun from the ground up around those features. So, you have to develop a novel firearm on top of developing novel security features. Adding even more complexity to the feat and probably explaining the multiple feeding issues on display in the Forgotten Weapons video.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there is no market for these guns. The Series 80 1911s are fairly popular despite some enthusiasts’ reservations. So are biometric safes that are susceptible to nearly all of the same shortfalls mentioned above.

There’s clearly a market for guns. There’s clearly a market for biometric safes to store those guns. There is likely a market for a gun with a biometric lock built into it, even if early models are as pricey as the Biofire (with the cheapest option coming in at $1,500).

But the reliability issues of integrating an electronic lock into a gun have never been the greatest impediment to their adoption. The tallest hurdle has always been distrust over how gun-control advocates and lawmakers will react to their introduction. And for good reason.

In 2002, New Jersey passed an infamous law mandating that three years after a smart gun is introduced to the market, those are the only kind of guns that could be sold in the state. President Joe Biden also vowed during his campaign to “put America on the path to ensuring that 100% of firearms sold in America are smart guns,” something almost certainly impossible without a ban on traditional firearms.

However, New Jersey’s law was reformed in 2019. It no longer bans the sale of traditional firearms when smart guns come onto the market. Instead, it requires they be sold alongside them. And President Biden hasn’t made any moves on smart guns since taking office.

That’s unlikely to put gun-rights advocates entirely at ease. But banning the sale of traditional firearms because of the existence of smart guns would also likely be unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Bruen standard for interpreting the Second Amendment.

And the position of gun-rights groups and the industry has long been that smart guns should be allowed on the market for those who want them. They just shouldn’t be the only option available since not everyone does want them.

But it appears we will soon begin to find out if enough Americans out there want a smart gun to support any of the companies now developing them.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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