Matt Nager/Wall Street Journal
Matt Nager/Wall Street Journal

According to 19-year-old MIT undergraduate student Kai Kloepfer, America has a “gun violence” problem. To help find a solution for the problem, Kloepfer decided to create a smart gun that utilizes military-grade fingerprint software so only the gun’s owner can use the weapon. The idea is to keep children and criminals from being able to shoot guns and the technology found on these smart guns is similar to what is used by Apple to lock iPhones.

Kloepfer took to a number of crowdfunding websites to raise the money necessary to make his idea a reality.

I am building a safer gun that only the owner can use, preventing children, teens, and criminals from using it. My technology is a safety mechanism built into a normal handgun and works in conjunction with the other safeties on the gun. When you grip the gun normally it reads your fingerprint and compares it against a list of users that is stored inside the gun. If it matches, the gun is ready for fire, otherwise it is locked and secured. The only person that can access or modify the allowed users is the owner. They have full control to add/remove users or sell the gun.

Kloepfer has been working on the design for the past four years and expects to finish a live-firing prototype within the next few months.

This past weekend, Kloepfer unveiled his design at the San Francisco Smart Gun Technology Symposium.

“You are going to save America. You are going to save lives. The gun companies won’t tell you, but the tech industry will,” Ron Conway, co-sponsor of the symposium and one of the technology industries most influential investors, told Kloepfer.

But one of the most controversial aspects of Kloepfer’s gun design is time.

The gun unlocks in about a second from when a fingerprint touches the sensor, and locks in less than half that time. This means that when the gun owner, a law enforcement officer for example, is disarmed, the gun will be locked before an assailant can turn it around and use it on them.

When you need to defend yourself, one to two seconds can be the difference between life and death. Those “short” few seconds it takes to ‘unlock’ the smart gun are the same two seconds a traditional gun could be used to fend off a would-be attacker.

Then there’s the problem with the gun’s “water-proof” aspect.

If the gun owner’s finger is wet, the gun won’t unlock. That’s a liability in itself.

Most people sweat when they’re in a stressful situation, including when they’re fearing for their lives. In the two seconds it takes for someone to wipe their hands on their pants and the smart gun to unlock, they could already be dead.

“No one has solved the technology challenges to make the smart gun work as reliably as existing technology,” said Larry Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “If you’re using it [smart gun] for self-defense and it doesn’t work, you’re not inconvenienced. You’re dead.”

For those of us that live in areas where gloves are necessary, this “smart” technology leaves us out in the cold. The fingerprint reader can only read a bare, dry fingerprint.

Another issue is the battery life. Kloepfer’s smart gun’s battery would last about a year if it’s not used all that frequently. A year is a long time for a battery, but not in terms of self-defense.

People who use guns for home defense tend to put a small handgun in a bedside drawer or in a place where they can easily access the gun in the event of an emergency. Once the gun is placed in that safe location, it’s forgotten about until it’s needed. The last thing someone needs when someone breaks into their home is wondering whether or not their gun will be fully charged.

“Failed attempts to develop and market ‘smart guns’ have been going on for years,” said NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen. “NRA does not oppose new technological developments in firearms; however, we are opposed to government mandates that require the use of expensive, unreliable features, such as grips that would read your fingerprints before the gun will fire.”