Smart Guns, the Law, and the Second Amendment

01 Jun 2020

Smart guns, which originally meant personalized guns that only the owner could fire, had a false start as a promising new technology several years ago. Nevertheless, policymakers have shown renewed interest in the wake of highly publicized incidents of gun violence, as well as advances in technology. The first generation of smart guns foundered on problems with the reliability of the technology, as well as a legislative misstep that would have banned all other guns as soon as smart guns appeared in the retail market. This proposal triggered massive boycotts of certain manufacturers and dealers and a subsequent abandonment of the project by the gun industry overall. Newer technologies, however, such as improved biometric grip identifiers, precision-guided rifles that rarely miss, blockchain or “glockchain” automated tracking, and optical scopes that send videos to smartphones, have revived interest in smart gun products. At least one state in 2019 (New Jersey) passed carefully drafted legislation promoting the introduction of personalized guns, while another (Arizona) passed legislation discouraging the adoption of digital ledgering technology for firearms. In addition, some leading candidates in the 2020 primary advocated for smart guns as a solution to gun violence. This paper will explore the emerging second-generation smart gun technology, its potential for adoption by the military, law enforcement, and civilian markets, and the realistic prospects for improvements in safety or reduction in gun violence. This discussion will include the disconnect between policy agendas regarding firearm safety and technological enhancements driven by current consumer demand—and the murky moral assumptions that undergird both