Smart weapons are emerging in the U.S. market, disrupting the gun industry

Custom smart weapons, which can only be used by verified users, may finally become available to U.S. consumers after two decades of questions about reliability and fears they are ushering in a new wave of government regulations.

Four-year-old LodeStar Works on Friday unveiled its 9mm smart handgun to shareholders and investors in Boise, Idaho. And a Kansas company, SmartGunz LLC, said law enforcement officers are currently beta testing their product, a similar but simpler model.

Both companies hope to have a product commercially available this year.

LodeStar co-founder Gareth Glaser said he was inspired after hearing too many stories about children being shot while playing with a gun unsupervised. Smart weapons could stop such tragedies by using technology to authenticate a user’s identity and deactivate the weapon if someone else tries to shoot it.

They could also reduce suicides, make lost or stolen guns unnecessary, and provide security for police and prison guards who fear gun seizures.

But attempts to develop smart weapons have stalled: Smith & Wesson were boycotted, German company product hacked, and a New Jersey law to promote smart weapons sparked anger of the supporters of the Second Amendment.

Rob Regent of SGW Designworks explains the inner workings of the 9mm Smart Gun, which only works for the designated user, during a presentation to potential shareholders and investors in Boise, Idaho, USA on January 7, 2022. (Photo Reuters)

The LodeStar pistol, aimed at first-time buyers, would cost $ 895.

The test firing of the LodeStar pistol in front of Reuters cameras has not been reported elsewhere. A shooting officer fired without problem with the weapon, a prototype of the third generation, in its various settings.

Glaser acknowledged that there will be additional challenges to large-scale manufacturing, but said he was confident that after years of trial and error, the technology was sufficiently advanced and the microelectronics inside. of the pistol was well protected.

“We finally feel like we’re at the point where… are going public,” Glaser said. “We are here.”

Most of the early prototypes of smart guns used fingerprint unlock or RFID technology that allows the gun to only fire when a chip in the gun communicates with another chip worn by the user in a ring. or a bracelet.

LodeStar has integrated both a fingerprint reader and a near-field communication chip activated by a phone application, as well as a PIN pad. The weapon can be authorized for more than one user.

The fingerprint reader unlocks the gun in microseconds, but since it may not work when wet or in other adverse conditions, the PIN pad is there as a backup. LodeStar did not demonstrate the near field communication signal, but it would act as a secondary backup, enabling the gun as quickly as users can open the app on their phone.

SmartGunz wouldn’t say which law enforcement agencies are testing its weapons, which are secured by RFID. SmartGunz developed a model that sold for $ 1,795 for law enforcement and $ 2,195 for civilians, said Tom Holland, a Democratic state senator from Kansas who co-founded the company in 2020.

Colorado-based Biofire is developing a smart gun with a fingerprint reader.

Skeptics have argued that smart weapons are too risky for someone trying to protect a home or family during a crisis, or for police in the field.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the gun industry, says it doesn’t oppose smart weapons until the government enforces their sale.

“If I had a dime every time in my career I heard someone say he’s about to market us a smart gun, I would probably be retired by now,” said Lawrence Keane, Senior Vice President. of the NSSF.

Firearms hitting the market could trigger a New Jersey law of 2019 requiring all gun stores in the state to carry smart weapons once they become available. The 2019 law replaced a 2002 law that would have prohibited the sale of any handgun except smart weapons.

“The other side put up their hand because they used smart weapons to ban anything that isn’t a smart weapon,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs. . “It woke up gun owners.”

When Smith & Wesson pledged in 1999 to promote the development of smart weapons, among other gun safety measures in an agreement with the United States government, the National Rifle Association sponsored a boycott that resulted in lower income.

In 2014, the German company Armatix brought a smart.22 caliber pistol to the market, but it was pulled from stores after hackers discovered a way to remotely jam the pistol’s radio signals and, using magnets, to fire the pistol when it should have been locked.

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