'Smart guns' aim to reduce U.S. shooting deaths

It's a frosty January day at this firing range in Boise, Idaho, where the rangemaster checks and readies to fire a new prototype of what might be the handgun of the future.

Developed by LodeStar Works, this nine-millimeter pistol is a prototype "smart gun," equipped with fingerprint reader, passcode, and a way to lock and unlock it from a mobile phone.

"Right now, we're testing two different positions for that biometric from an ergonomic standpoint. First being right here where you either touch it with your thumb or your index finger, the opposite side with your index finger more when you're in a shooting position."

Rob Regent is a mechanical engineer with SGW DesignWorks, which is building the LodeStar prototype.

"The second authentication method is a pin pad right here and what those are, those are just more or less tactile push buttons. There's three of them. You know, you could do four to six digits. It acts much like an electronic door lock would. The third method is the, you know, the BLE, or the Bluetooth Low Energy. And basically, we have a mobile application that communicates wirelessly to the gun and you can lock or unlock from any of those methods altogether."

Personalized smart guns, which can be fired only by verified users, may finally be available to U.S. consumers after two decades of questions about reliability and concerns they will usher in a new wave of government regulation.

LodeStar co-founder Gareth Glaser told Reuters the inspiration for the company came after hearing one too many stories about children shot while playing with an unattended gun.

"I'd seen the abject failure of every policy to try to make, to do something about gun safety. Lobbying and regulations and lawsuits, and, you know, and it all goes nowhere. Not one life is saved. In fact, the statistics just keep going up."

Advocates say smart guns could also reduce suicides. A lost or stolen gun would be useless. And police officers would not have to fear that their own service weapons might be taken and used against them.

But not everyone believes smart guns are the solution.

"If I had a nickel for every time in my career I heard somebody say, 'We're about to bring a so-called smart gun on the market,' I'd probably be retired now."

Lawrence Keane is with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm trade group.

"As we understand the concept, it's to allow someone to have a loaded firearm relying upon the technology to make it safe and it can't be used by somebody... So if you have one of these firearms and you're relying upon technology - that's one of the other principles: never rely upon technology, always treat every firearm as if it's loaded until you're sure that it's not."

The NSSF says it does not oppose smart guns as long as the government doesn't mandate their sale.

The LodeStar gun would sell for $895. Similar firearms are being readied for market by other developers.

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