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We’ve been hearing about “smart guns” for well over a quarter century. The dream (of some) has been a gun that recognizes its owner and will only work for that person. The idea is to make sure that people who aren’t authorized — thieves, children — are locked out and can’t use the firearm. That ideal is obvious and laudable. The history and execution, so far, have been less than impressive.

Lots of people have advocated a wide array of designs and hyped allegedly market-ready models. Some were well intentioned people who thought they could overcome the technological challenges involved. Some seemed more like snake oil salesmen who hawked not-ready-for-prime-time contraptions, some of which were downright awful.

Stephen Sliwa, president of Colt Manufacturing Co., holds a prototype of the company’s “smart gun” at the Colt plant in West Hartford, Conn., Friday, Oct. 23, 1998. The small transponder Sliwa holds in his right hand communicates with a small radio transmitter within the gun to operate the trigger. (AP Photo/Bob Child)

But we’re living in a time of string theories and God particles. Anything is possible, right? Technology marches on and no one really doubted that one day, someone would develop and market a viable “smart gun” with systems of one type or another that would reliably (within reason) ID authorized users.

Then along came the legislative wizards in New Jersey state government who single-handedly stifled “smart gun” design for a couple of decades. Led by some very big brains like Senator Loretta Weinberg, they enacted a law that mandated that once a smart gun design was marketed to consumers anywhere in the US, all guns sold in the Garden State would have to have the technology.

In the grand tradition of Soviet central planning, Senator Weinberg’s mandate had some, shall we say, unintended consequences among rational economic actors who live and work out here in the real world.

To wit, the Jersey mandate put a damper on “smart gun” R&D. No one wanted to trigger the law and be responsible for condemning millions of Garden State gun buyers to having a choice of exactly one gun.

lodestar smartgunz smart gun
Smoke and mirrors? (courtesy Reuters)

Over many years and against all odds, enough people screamed, yelled and ridiculed Senator Weinberg that finally, in a significant concession and a sotto voce admission of responsibility, she was finally persuaded to alter the New Jersey mandate law. Now, under the revised statue, once a “smart gun” is marketed to consumers in the US, New Jersey gun retailers will be allowed to continue to sell traditional guns. They’ll just have to also stock the smart gun model so buyers will have that as an option.

No one mourned the passing of the Armatix “smart gun.”

All of which is how we finally find ourselves today with what appears to be an actual, viable product being sold by Biofire. The company has been taking orders for guns that they say will begin shipping in small quantities in the last quarter of this year and become more widely available to consumers in the first half of 2024.

We talked to Biofire’s founder Kai Kloepfer last week and he told us that orders had been coming in faster than the company had projected. And Biofire bought a sponsored email blast from us, which went out a couple of days ago.

The advertising side of the business here at TTAG is handled by other folks. That’s why I wasn’t even aware of the ad until I started to get emails about it. Most of those who wrote weren’t happy.

Here’s a selection . . .

I know TTAG needs money, Dan, but . . . . 

No way should anyone have to rely on a weapon that needs charging . . .

How ironic they call this “the truth about guns”.  

Not interested in smart guns whatsoever.  In fact I’m opposed to them and you should be too. 

The graphic from TTAG’s Biofire email blast

You’d be able to count all the emails we got on two hands, but you have to figure that these represent the views of a lot more people who didn’t take the time to email.

A not insignificant number of gun owners seem to be morally affronted that a company would produce a firearm with biometric technology. They somehow see “smart guns” as a threat to their gun rights and can’t believe that we would stoop so low as running an ad for a product like the Biofire smart gun.

Biofire’s Kloepfer is under no illusions. He’s well aware that his product probably won’t have much appeal for most of the kinds of people who read this and other firearm-related sites. But as he told me last week, he and Biofire are staunchly against any type of mandate like the disastrous one that New Jersey enacted lo these many years ago. And he’s one of those who worked to finally convince Sweet Loretta that her mandate law was counterproductive and only hurt the cause of “smart gun” development.

Does that mean some other anencephalic anti-gun legislator in another blue state won’t try the same thing once the Biofire and possibly other biometric guns become more widely available? Of course not. If there’s one thing that’s every bit as certain as death and taxes, it’s elected officials wanting to enact ill-conceived, poorly written laws for the rest of us to live under. Because they can. But good luck with that now that Bruen is the law of the land.

Do you want a smart gun? No? OK, don’t buy one. I don’t plan to ever buy one either. The idea of relying on a firearm — especially an early generation model — that depends on electronics to operate inside a tool with all of the forces generated by a typical handgun doesn’t give me a feeling of confidence. I’ll stick with my current home defense gun, thank you very much.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think smart guns should be made and sold to the public. There are undoubtedly a lot of people out there who aren’t comfortable owning a handgun. The additional safety systems (fingerprint ID and facial recognition) that are designed into the Biofire gun might be enough to get them over the decision-making hump and prompt them to become gun owners.

I don’t know how many of those people are out there. Kloepfer and Biofire’s investors are banking that there are a lot of them. However many there may be, to the extent that “smart guns” like Biofire’s result in more gun owners, that’s a net plus no matter what kind of guns you choose to own.

More gun owners in America means more people who care about gun rights. That’s a win no matter what you think of “smart guns.”

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