Does Gun Safety Tech Work?

Biometrics, radio frequency identification tags and even mechanical locks could reduce accidental deaths and suicides from guns.

President Obama's executive orders on gun control announced Tuesday includes a big push for so-called "smart gun technology" that supporters say would limit accidental deaths and suicides from guns by using biometrics, radio frequency identification tags, and even mechanical locks.

Many of these gun technologies are already commercially available, but have been opposed by gun rights groups or gun owners in the United States. Others are still under development, such as the iGun from Dayton, Ohio-based Crimson Moon Entertainment, which tracks the gun's location if stolen.

But experts say that the president's announcement may tip the scales and result in a boost in demand for this kind of technology, especially if federal agencies or police officers begin buying weapons equipped with smart gun technology.

"We live in world that has these technologies and are accepted as being highly reliable," said Stephen Teret, director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Johns Hopkins University. "And they could be used in guns. The benefit would be a reduction of gun deaths."

Teret says that of the 33,636 gun deaths last year in the United States, two-thirds were the result of either suicides or accidents, deaths that could be prevented by guns that have to be authorized by an owner before they are fired.

German gun manufacturer Armatix has already developed a .22-caliber handgun that uses RFID chip on the gun that receives a signal from a wristwatch or bracelet worn by the owner. The gun won't fire without the signal, which has a 10-inch range.

The company is working on a 9-millimeter handgun, which is the most popular gun sold in the U.S.

In 2014, however, gun shop owners in Los Angeles and suburban Washington, DC, received arson and death threats after they announced they would sell the Armatix smart gun. They pulled the gun and it hasn't been offered for sale since.

Margot Hirsch, president of the Smart Technologies Challenge Foundation, which funded $1 million in smart gun research projects last year, says that the climate of intimidation may change with the president's announcement on Tuesday. The executive order directs the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to "conduct and sponsor" smart gun technology research and development.

"The federal government is largest purchaser of firearms," Hirsch said. "There is theoretically for money for research and development. When you make a smart gun you need to make sure its reliable by building multiple prototypes."

Hirsch says there's a big demand for safe guns from gun-owning families with children. Some of the new technologies would also allow gun owners to retrofit their weapons with various locking mechanisms rather than having to purchase new ones.

The National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation -- groups that strongly oppose the president's new gun control measures -- say on their websites that they do not oppose the smart gun technology, but rather laws making it mandatory.

Armatix's Baselock is one way to securely store pistols.

Aug. 13, 2012 --

The shooting deaths of three people near Texas A&M University today, making this the third major act of gun violence in the United States within the past 30 days, is bound to reignite a debate about gun control. The country was still reeling from the deadly tragedy at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., which left 12 people dead, and another act of domestic terrorism at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, leaving seven dead including the shooter. Colorado, Wisconsin and Texas aren't the only states to have their gun laws come under scrutiny following a shooting tragedy. Other states with even more lax laws have also drawn fire.

The killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student who was unarmed at the time, stirred controversy over the application of justice in the shooting. Florida's gun ownership laws came under scrutiny. George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old shooter and self-described neighborhood watch captain, had a concealed carry permit, easily obtained in the state. Florida also has laws in place the protect the use of firearms. A 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law allows the use of deadly force if there's the reasonable expectation of a threat, even if the supposed attacker is unarmed.

Following a shooting in Tuscon, Ariz. on Jan. 8, 2011 that left congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded and resulted in the deaths of six people, Arizona's gun laws, considered among the nation's most lenient, drew widespread media attention. The state of Arizona allows anyone over age 21 to not only own a firearm, but also conceal a handgun without needing a permit. In fact, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill in January 2010 repealing a law requiring concealed-carry permits, according to NPR. Twice already this year, Arizona state lawmakers have considered two bills loosening gun ownership restrictions. One bill brought before the Arizona Senate would have allowed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on university campuses, a measure that stalled because of the controversy that ensued from the idea of allowing guns in schools. A second bill drafted in the Arizona House would allow gun owners to carry in public buildings, and is "quietly moving toward passage," according to the Arizona Republic. This photo shows ammunition being sold at the Pima County gun show in 2011 one week after the shooting in Tuscon.

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Nearly five years ago, 32 people at Virginia Tech were killed when a mentally ill student went a on a shooting spree before turning the gun on himself. Virginia's laws are similar to restrictions imposed by other states on gun ownership. The state requires permits for concealed carry, which is subject to a review process. The state also has a 22-year-old law requiring criminal background checks on gun sales -- a law which the current governor, Bob McDonnell, says he's evaluating in a January interview with the Virginian Pilot. The state, however, does have what gun control advocates call a major loophole: private dealers may sell firearms at gun shows without a background check. Without a background check, according to gun control proponents, criminals have ready access to weapons at gun shows. In 2011, an American-born al-Qaeda spokesman even encouraged potential terrorists in a video statement to take advantage of similar loopholes in the United States. In this photo, mourners hold a vigil following the Virginia Tech massacre.

Mississippi not only has some of the most permissive gun laws of any state; it also has the second-highest number of firearm-related fatalities per 100,000 people. A new law passed in Mississippi in December 2011 allows residents to carry guns in public places, including "bars, courthouses and college campuses," according to a UPI report. Mississippi also has highest "export rates" of any state, that is the number of guns sold in Mississippi to criminals who use them in another, according to a study led by a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Mississippi might have the second-highest rate of gun-related fatalities, but Alaska leads the list -- and also has even more lax gun laws than Mississippi. Nearly 21 people in 100,000 die as a result of a firearm in Alaska. Like Arizona, Alaska law allows for anyone over 21 to purchase a firearm. The state also permits concealed and open carry. There are some restrictions in Alaska, however. While Arizona is currently considering a law allowing guns in public buildings, carrying weapons in these areas is prohibited by Alaska laws. Private business owners also are allowed to use their discretion as to whether they allow firearms in their establishments.

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Like its neighbor Arizona, New Mexico's lax gun ownership laws make it a prime location for buying guns for the purpose of interstate arms trafficking. New Mexico doesn't require permits for purchase, possession or open carry. Concealed carry permits require the completion of a gun safety course. Weapons used by drug cartels in Mexico often originate in the United States due to the ease with which criminals can buy guns and smuggle them across the border, as reported by CNN. These firearms are usually purchased in border states, like New Mexico.

Montana has limited restrictions on gun ownership, requiring permits only for concealed carry. In 2009, Montana passed the Montana Firearms Freedom Act (PDF), a bill that challenged federal authority of the state to regulate guns made and sold in Montana. The move proved controversial, and the bill has been tied up in the court system.

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