Shortsighted Firearm Access Control Technology

A lot of electrons have been annoyed by people such as myself writing about access control technologies for firearm (often erroneously referred to as smart gun technology). Advocates of gun control want to mandate access control technologies in firearms because it will increase the costs and make guns less accessible they claim it will decrease gun related deaths. Gun rights advocates are worried that other states will pass laws like New Jersey’s that mandate all firearms include access control technologies after the first such equipped firearm is released to market. I’m primarily interested in the technology itself (since I have no problem ignoring laws I disagree with the threat of mandating the technology doesn’t carry much weight with me).

Understanding that politics is an ineffective vehicle for creating change some people got together and founded the Smart Tech for Firearms Challenge, which awards grants to individuals who show promising developments in access control technologies for firearms. One of those prize winners is Kai Kloepfer, a 17 year-old who designed an access control system for firearms. First let me congratulate Mr. Kloepfer on designing such a system at a young age. He shows the potential to go far as an engineer. Now let me point out a major flaw in the system he designed:

The gun works by creating a user ID and locking in the fingerprint of each user allowed to use the gun. The gun will only unlock with the unique fingerprint of those who have already permission to access the gun.

Access control technology for firearms that rely on the user’s fingerprint aren’t viable. While people living in California, Arizona, Florida, or other southern states may be inclined to ask why I, as a Minnesotan, can point out the glaring error quite quickly: gloves. Those of us who live in northern states spend many months with our hands inside of gloves. When it’s 20 below zero outside you can’t have your hands exposed to the elements for very long and those finger saving gloves render fingerprint readers useless (as well as capacitive touchscreens). How am I supposed to unlock my firearm in the winter? Some will probably say “By taking off your gloves, dumbass.” Those people don’t live in Minnesota because taking off your gloves isn’t always an option, especially when you plan to grab onto a freezing cold piece of metal. Furthermore one is seldom afforded the time to remove their gloves in a defensive situation.

Finger and hand print readers are Hollywood’s go-to solution for firearm access control. In the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, Bond is given a Walther PPK/S equipped with a hand print reader. If anybody other than James Bond is holding the pistol it won’t fire. Hollywood sure makes the technology look effective but Bond is also never wearing gloves. Still many people seem to get their inspiration from Hollywood movies and that must be the reason why manufacturers of firearm access control technology have such a hard-on for finger and hand print readers. Because it certainly isn’t for practical reasons.