“Smart guns” that only their owners can fire are not new. And yet, these guns are not mass-produced or sold in the United States, in part because of fears they are a backdoor to greater gun control. But that’s going to change says one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent entrepreneurs who champions the hi-tech firearms. Lesley Stahl reports on smart guns, firearms advocates believe can lower the number of accidental shootings and suicides in the U.S., on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, November 1 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Smart weapons recognize their owners’ fingerprints or hand grip, or unlock when they wirelessly interact with a special watch or ring worn by the shooter. Ron Conway, an early investor in Google and Facebook who has funded 15 smart-gun projects, says he’s looking for the Mark Zuckerberg of guns. He thinks the market is ripe for disruption. “This is going to happen outside the gun industry. Why they aren’t doing research and investing in this baffles me,” says Conway.
So why can’t you buy a smart gun in the United States today? One reason is gun-shop owners won’t sell them. When one Maryland dealer announced he would try to sell one smart gun he was immediately attacked with email and phone call threats by people who believed that he could have triggered a New Jersey ban on regular handguns that don’t possess smart-gun technology.
Turns out that the sale of smart guns could actually restrict gun sales, at least in New Jersey, where a 13-year-old law mandates all regular handguns sold in the state be smart guns if and when they become available for sale anywhere else in the country. Acknowledging how this law has actually inadvertently impeded smart guns from coming onto the marketplace, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg, who sponsored the original mandate, tells 60 Minutes that as early as next week, she will ask her state’s legislature to repeal the law and replace it with one mandating at least one smart gun be for sale wherever weapons are sold in her state.
Steve Sanetti speaks for gun manufacturers as the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). He says it’s the anti-gun forces who want smart guns, not the marketplace. “It’s coming from people who, frankly, really want to put as many obstacles to a gun going off as they can,” he tells Stahl. He argues that such laws punish responsible gun owners who secure their weapons safely away from children or thieves and that manufacturers include safety mechanisms on guns. “Why are you trying to take my firearm and add something to it that’s going to make it more prone to failure?” he asks, referring to the possibility that technology might malfunction, like the batteries in the “smart” devices could drain, causing the gun to fail. Another basic argument Sanetti makes is that Americans like guns the way they were. “Guns of the Old West, they like them the way Davy Crockett used them…years ago,” he says.
But times are changing, says Conway. He believes a new generation of tech-savvy people, especially young parents, will embrace the hi-tech smart guns eventually, even overcoming the politics currently holding them back. “You cannot stop innovation. And this is an area where innovation is taking over…for technology and innovation, we have to ignore politics,” he tells Stahl.