Published July 19, 2013
The marriage of technology and weaponry is creating a growing but expensive class of “smart” guns that promises to boost security, improve accuracy -- and make guns even deadlier. But even gun-rights advocates aren't sure that's such a good thing.
"Are there any legitimate gun owners who are calling for this technology for safety? I haven't heard of one," said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, in a recent interview.
One example is a newly unveiled “supergun” from TrackingPoint that emulates the target-locking technology from jets to turn any rifle into an ultra-accurate sniper gun capable of consistently hitting a target from 1.75 miles away.
“With [this] technology, shooting a hunting rifle is like being a pilot in a fighter jet,” Jason Schauble, CEO of the Austin, Texas-based company, told FoxNews.com. “You tag a target, and lock onto it. Then you engage the target for a shot.”
Other gun rights groups strike a more measured albeit still cautious approach.
“The National Shooting Sports Foundation does not oppose the development of authorized user recognition technology for firearms,” wrote NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane on the group’s blog. “What the industry does oppose are ill-conceived mandates … on the use of this conceptual technology.”
Smart gun boosters say the new weapons will reduce accidents with rifles or other guns at home. That’s the point of Yardarm Technologies innovation, for example: a geo-location system that tracks a gun and can remotely lock it (or fire it).
“Suppose you and your family are on vacation in Las Vegas, and your firearm is back at home. Wouldn’t you want to know in real time if an intruder, or worse a child, is handling your gun?” said Bob Stewart, Yardarm’s CEO, in a statement to the media. “We want the gun owner to stay connected to their firearm, no matter what the circumstance.”
Jim Schaff, vice president of marketing for the company, acknowledged the controversy, but thinks the technology is ready for the mainstream.
"This kind of technology needs to be accepted by the consumer,” he told FoxNews.com. "We're developing technology in a way that is helpful to users but not too controversial.”
YardArm’s tech should be ready in a prototype form within 60 days, Schaff said.
Some gun users are dismissive of smart gun technology such as TrackingPoint's, which sells its sniper rifle as a package for as much as $22,000 or more. They prefer riflemen to get their skills the old fashioned way: through years of training.
“It’s a very expensive piece of machinery, and very heavy, requiring extensive training, learning and practice for it to be of any use at all at mile-plus distances,” said Jameson Campaigne, a board member of the American Conservative Union and a staunch advocate of Second Amendment rights.
Campaigne told FoxNews.com would-be shooters should hunker down, go to a rifle range, and get trained by a retired gunnery sergeant.
But they don't have to, TrackingPoint says. Its tech means that a new era in precision marksmanship is emerging -- an era they call the “democratization of marksmanship.”
“We use technology that’s a network tracking scope integrated with a normal firearm,” Schauble told FoxNews.com. “We make it into a smart rifle. There’s a ballistic computer in it. There’s the ability to track targets. There’s a Wi-Fi server that allows it to record video of everything.”
A retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Schauble tells FoxNews.com the rifle will give hunters or military combatants the ability to control for weather and other environmental factors as well as human error.
“This allows the shooter to take only the good shot,” he said. “We’re selling it to the commercial market for long-range hunters and shooters. We’re also in discussions with various elements of the U.S. government about implementing the technology.”
Smart guns may finally have their day, after years of development. The New Jersey Institute of Technology showed a personalized gun in 2005 with biometric sensors in its grip and a customized trigger that tracks a shooter’s hand size, strength, and grip style. It was programmed to recognize only the owner, or anyone the owner authorizes.
Even Colt got in the game, developing a bracelet in the late 90s that emits a radio signal that stirs a mechanism inside a weapon to allow the gun to be fired.
Today’s models improve on those ideas. Schauble said TrackingPoint's new gun technologies include gyroscopes and magnetometers in the rifle, which give the rifle consistent results.
“It won’t take years to learn to shoot long-range. Just minutes,” he told FoxNews.com.