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The United States of America, thanks to an unfortunate interpretation of the Second Amendment as constitutionally protecting every irresponsible, insecure person in the country’s right to keep a personal arsenal, has something of a problem with people accidentally blowing themselves, or each other away. In fact, nearly a thousand Americans under the age of 19 die from accidental firearm discharge every year, and most cases involve handguns. The problem was there did not seem to be any good way to reduce this number. There was no way to take the guns from people without changing the Constitution. Most Americans kept handguns for the purpose of self-defense, so keeping the gun unloaded, while safe, went a long way towards defeating the entire purpose of having a handgun in the first place. Hiding a handgun from the children is even less effective than attempting to hide Christmas presents (and we all know how well that worked) and has the disadvantage of being a 365 day per year issue. Some people had success locking the guns up, but decreases potential usefulness, and the key or combination to the safe falls victim to the same problem as the hidden handgun. The NRA and most responsible parents supported the practice of putting the fear of God into their children regarding handguns, but in the age of microwave dinners in front of the television, that was less common than anyone liked.

Then, in the mid-90's, the cheap availability of small microchips were beginning to permeate society. Smart credit cards, smart bombs, smart locks, even smart toasters. Somebody, almost certainly after watching Judge Dredd, got the bright idea of putting a microchip into handguns so that only the owner could fire them. Most plans involved a ring or bracelet worn by the owner that contained a tiny transceiver that functioned much like the passive radio collars used to identify animals. An emitter in the handgun produced a radio signal that was picked up by the chip in the ring. This chip would resonate only with a certain pattern and frequency, and only at a very short distance. The chip in the gun would only engage the firing mechanism if exactly the right tranceiving chip was very close to it. In effect, the gun was unfirable unless it was being held by a person wearing the proper ring, presumably the owner of the gun.

Police organizations instantly supported this movement, as approximately two thirds of all officer firearm injuries are from their own weapons. Parent groups also supported this movement, because it was "for the children." Congress supported the movement, with several bills proposed requiring all handguns to be built with such safety measures. The NRA, curiously, remained ambivalent. The gun manufacturers, however, were up in arms, so to speak. They were already facing a downturn in sales, and smart guns would significantly increase the price of their products. They claimed that the devices were unreliable, subject to damage. They claimed that the handguns would still fire in the wrong hands, that they wouldn't fire in the owner's hand. They claimed that it was expensive gimmickry, unnecessary bells and whistles. They cried that it was another liberal attempt to remove control of firearms from the people, and it was a government plot to take control of all handguns. But then, firearm manufacturer Smith & Wesson had the audacity to do the unthinkable. They produced, at the request of a police department, a smart handgun. And it worked. Instantly, the NRA began denouncing them from their highest pulpit. The other gun manufacturers moaned and cried. Most gun shops not only refused to sell the smart gun, but any Smith & Wesson firearm. After only a few months, Smith & Wesson was forced to withdraw this gun from the market entirely. The industry claimed that it was a failed experiment and that the technology is not ready for prime time.

The smart handgun is a perfect example of an industry suppressing a technology that it felt would be harmful to its business, even though it might be better for the common good. Even now, in the 21st century, smart handguns are "a few years away," even though the technology is more than half a decade old, and I use it every day to open the doors at work. It will probably remain "a few years away" for a long time to come. Every time a child is injured or killed by their parent's gun, every time a police officer is shot with his own pistol, remember that the firearm industry fought long and hard to make it possible.

One brief additional piece of information. The 'Smart Gun' that Smith & Wesson produced for police use worked slightly differently. It, too, relied on a ring-mounted transponder. However, the algorithm was slightly different; in this unit's case, it would only fire if the ring was not in front of the gun, as defined by a plane intersecting the middle of the barrel perpendicular to the weapon - spreading out away from the gun to all sides. This was done so that if someone managed to wrestle the gun away from the officer and point it at him or her, the presence of the transponder in front of the gun would cause it to lock. AFAIK, however, the gun would still fire if no ring was anywhere to be seen.

Furthermore, the final prototype of this gun was exhibited by Smith & Wesson on several television 'technology' shows; in those appearances, they were careful to state that while the technology worked, it was not robust enough to survive the gun actually firing. I don't buy that; it's plausible that the prototype didn't have a robust electronics package in it, but there is no good reason one couldn't be produced cheaply. Embedded solid-state electronics are a mature technology, and have demonstrated the ability to withstand much nastier shocks than a pistol shot's recoil.

A 'wishful thinking' version of this showed up in the James Bond film License to Kill as the 'Signature gun'.

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