Tech, or lack thereof, keeps shaping gun debate

As the California Legislature prepares to revisit a host of gun-control bills that didn’t make it into law last year, technology – new, or perhaps not-yet-viable – keeps shaping the debate.

SB 293 by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, which would’ve required the adoption of smart-gun user identification technology in all new guns sold in the state, stalled out in committee. One of the chief criticisms is that the technology remains nowhere near reliable enough to be made mandatory.

But 10 months after Silicon Valley leaders joined with parents of children who’d been slain at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., to call for high-tech solutions to gun violence, a new tech initiative is about to take off.

The Smart Tech Foundation is seeking proposals for technology that blocks unauthorized use of handguns and ammunition; teams interested in competing for grants and prize money totaling at least $1 million can apply starting Tuesday.

“A panel of expert and industry-leading judges will review the proposals and allocate funds directly to innovators to help build an ecosystem of innovation and address gun violence through free market forces,” the foundation said in a news release.

The competition kicks of with a news conference Tuesday in San Francisco at which companies from around the world will share their stories and demonstrate technology they’re already developing, including:

  • Armatix, which touts a “Smart System” using a radio-controlled watch that allows the gun to operate;
  • Everlokt Corp., which has a patent pending on Safe Access Ammunition;
  • Allied Biometrix, developing a gun with biometric sensors in the grip to recognize authorized users;
  • Salus Security Devices, which makes the Protector XT biometric locking station for long guns;
  • Sentinl, which is developing a biometric trigger lock;
  • TriggerSmart Technologies, developing an RFID system for firearms; and
  • Yardarm Technologies, developing motion-sensor technology that will notify the rightful user remotely and in real time if the firearm is being handled.
  • Among those scheduled to be at Tuesday’s event are SV Angel founder Ron Conway; San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr; Smart Tech Foundation Director Jim Pitkow; and Smart Tech Foundation President Margot Hirsch.

    Meanwhile, an existing state law has pushed a major gun manufacturer to pull most of its semi-automatic handguns from California’s market.

    Lots more on this, after the jump…

    AB 1471, authored by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-West Hollywood, and signed into law in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, requires that new semi-automatic handguns sold in California use “microstamping” – having hammers that stamp a tiny, unique code onto each casing when firing. The law took effect last year.

    Sturm, Ruger & Co. announced earlier this month that it would stop new sales in California; on Thursday, Smith & Wesson said it’ll stop selling new or updated semi-automatic handguns here. Some existing S&W models that already are on the state’s approved handgun list will still be available, so long as the company doesn’t redesign them in a way that requires new testing and triggers the microstamping requirement. Revolvers and bolt-action rifles won’t be affected.

    “Smith & Wesson does not and will not include microstamping in its firearms,” the Massachusetts-based company said in a news release. “A number of studies have indicated that microstamping is unreliable, serves no safety purpose, is cost-prohibitive and, most importantly, is not proven to aid in preventing or solving crimes.”

    “As our products fall off the roster due to California’s interpretation of the Unsafe Handgun Act, we will continue to work with the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation to oppose this poorly conceived law which mandates the unproven and unreliable concept of microstamping and makes it impossible for Californians to have access to the best products with the latest innovations,” President and CEO James Debney said in the release.

    The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade association, and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute filed a lawsuit last week challenging the law.

    “The eyes of the nation are now turning to California,” foundation senior vice president and general counsel Larry Keane wrote in a statement posted online Thursday. “The national media has begun to take notice. This situation is not only about a consumer’s right to select the handguns with the latest features, or the aforementioned inability of manufacturers to comply with an unworkable law – the constitutional, Second Amendment stakes are very high.”

    Josh Richman

    Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

    • Elwood

      Here’s Kevin de Leon (the next pro tem?) displaying his technical knowledge of weapons:


    • MichaelB

      The so called “gun debate” has already been settled for those bothering to pay attention. Liberals/progressives are blaming guns (which have been around for hundreds of years in this nation/legally owned by millions of citizens) for violence. And wanting to get rid of as many as possible regardless of who has them/what they are doing with them.

      They do not want to go near or discuss the failure of their “blame society” policies as it relates to crime/violence. Everything can be supposedly “fixed” by just banning more guns, gun shops, gun shows, “high capacity”magazines, etc. from any law abiding person who wants to own or operate one.

      The “tech” approach just sets up another barrier to those wishing to legally own guns/does nothing to address individual behaviors leading to violence. Expect more law abiding people to suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of the law if so called “gun violence prevention advocates” get their way on this issue.

    • JohnW

      I was going to comment on this. However, MichaelB has declared that the gun debate has been settled. So, why bother?