Getting Smarter With Guns

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Photographer: JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images

It's impossible, in this day and age, to pick up a stranger's password-protected mobile phone and send a text. It's easy to steal anyone's gun and fire away.

QuickTake Guns in America

It makes no sense for lethal weapons to be less protected than communications and entertainment devices. So President Barack Obama wants the government to assist in the development of smart-gun technology, which has the potential to reduce the number of preventable deaths.

The need is great. At least 278 children unintentionally killed or injured someone with a gun last year, and at least 84 have done so already in 2016. Additional suicides and murders have been committed by people using guns that did not belong to them.

Personalized firearms, enabled by biometric sensors or, for example, a bracelet worn around the owner's wrist, would also strengthen personal accountability -- which is not a priority for the gun lobby.

In 2000, when Smith & Wesson agreed in a legal settlement with the federal government to support safe-gun technology, the gun activists led a boycott of the company. More recently, stores selling a smart gun manufactured by Armatix have faced similar boycotts.

For the NRA, smart technology is another fantasy mudslide on the world's slipperiest slope -- the one that ends in government confiscation of all guns. With the gun lobby fervently opposed to smart technology, the Obama administration hopes to use government's vast purchasing power to serve as a "market participant" that can spur innovation. The National Institute of Justice has funded research into technologies, including biometric readers and proximity devices employing radio frequency to make guns operable only by their owners.

Police organizations are also being encouraged to weigh in on what designs and features would work best for law enforcement officers. No police force will be required to adopt new technologies that it doesn't endorse. And no company will be required to manufacture them.

Resisting technological innovation has never been a winning strategy, especially when the status quo is not working. And the status quo -- 100,000 Americans killed or injured by gunfire each year, and many more terrorized by it -- is unacceptable.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.