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Are smart guns the next silver bullet?

Interest in "smart guns," using biometrics and radio frequency technology, has rebounded following recent gun violence. President Obama has included them as part of his plan to reduce such mass shootings. Who makes these guns? How do they work? And will they catch on? Ann Thompson reports in "Focus on Technology."

“007 reporting for duty. Where the hell have you been? Enjoying death.”

In the past, personalized weapons have been reserved for James Bond movies like Skyfall when 007’s quartermaster handed him a special gun that will only work when he fires it.

Nat sound James Bond2 (ends with gunfire)

“This 9mm has been coded to your palm print.”

Nat sound Target World (starts with gunfire)

At Sharonville’s Target World, when told such a gun exists and may be sold in the U.S. later this year, Mike Caudell said he would consider one.

“On the spot, yeah. I would probably buy one. It doesn’t seem too farfetched I mean.”

Terry Banks of Trenton came to Target World with one of his friends. He sees the advantages of such a “smart gun,” although nobody knows the price.

“We’re just your average working guys. We work at a factory. You know 1,000 dollars for a gun is high up there anyways. It would depend. I like the idea and that way they wouldn’t have to do the ban every gun in sight thing.”

It may still be some months before Armatix of Germany begins selling its personalized gun in the U.S. The New York Daily News reports the gun, using radio frequency technology and biometrics was approved by the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms in 2011. Armatix is one of a handful of companies looking to market such a weapon. TriggerSmart of Ireland also uses RFID technology. The gun user would have the tag inside a rink or bracelet, allowing the gun to fire. The company is looking to license the technology to a company in the U.S. Closer to home, the James Bond type gun, is sitting inside a New Jersey lab. The New Jersey Institute of Technology took years to perfect the weapon after lawmakers wanted to know…

“Is it science? Is it science fiction? Does it already exist and is it being suppressed? Or is it a fantasy that can never happen?”

Daniel Sebastian is Senior Vice President of R&D at NJIT. New Jersey has passed a law mandating any gun sold in the state be personalized three years after one becomes commercially available. So the institute developed one that measures the pressure and pattern of the user’s grip. Here’s how Sebastian’s weapon works.

“During the first half second of trigger pull, the decisive electronics are measuring that pressure profile.  While you are applying the pressure to the gun that enables you to pull back that trigger, that is being recorded numerically and turned into the pattern that is compared to the patterns in the weapon.”

He says more than one person and one hand’s pattern can be recorded, allowing multiple users you designate. This gun is not on the market yet, and an entrepreneur is looking for funding. Joe Eaton is the Southwest Ohio leader for the Buckeye Firearms Association.

“Any type of technology or enhancements to the firearms and shooting sports is a good thing. Now should this be mandated or forced upon people, now that is something we’d have to oppose.”

Some question how reliable a personalized gun would be. Colt made one but scrapped the project over reliability concerns. Eaton says there’s never really been a successful commercial market for this type of gun.

“I really don’t see it going very far at all because even if they get standard computerized technology of 99.99%, still that small percentage, if your life or your family’s life is depending on it, you want to be as absolutely sure as 100% reliable as you can, adding in something that could fail you, is just not going to be a risk people are going to take if their own lives depend on it.”

Back at Target World, one person who wanted to remain anonymous said the idea of a smart gun theoretically is good, but the thing that makes a smart gun smart is the thing between your shoulders.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.