Why are "smart guns" always a step away from the market?

When I was at SHOT Show this past January, I noted that a number of “smart gun” companies had set up booths with their products on display, and that this looked to be the year that a so-called smart gun was going to be available to the general public.

Well, here we are almost halfway through 2022 and so far that doesn’t seem to be the case, though as we discuss on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, there are still plenty of companies out there hoovering up cash from investors. One six-year old company that still hasn’t brought a product to market, for example, just announced another $17-million in funding for its biometric pistol.

Biofire Technologies has raised $17 million in seed funding to further develop its smart gun, which uses a fingerprint sensor to unlock the trigger.

… “I see firearm ownership continuing to be part of American culture for the foreseeable future,” says Biofire founder and CEO Kai Kloepfer. “This issue has become so politicized that really nothing is being done, even for things that shouldn’t be political in any way, like kids getting hold of guns … A smart gun isn’t a cure-all, but we do think that we can have an immediate and substantial impact.”

Well, you can’t have an immediate impact if you’re not available for sale. And so far Biofire is still in the “beta” stage, according to Kloeper.

Meanwhile, Lodestar Firearms, another “smart gun” company that had an embarrassing on-camera debut when its pistol couldn’t fire two consecutive rounds during a demonstration, says the plan is to start selling guns in 2023.

WSB-TV reporter Tom Regan recently hit the range with Lodestar co-founder and CFO Ginger Chandler, and apparently didn’t have any issues with the gun going “click” instead of “bang”, which is good news for the company. But Regan’s report also contained a common refrain among gun owners I know; “I just don’t see the need for this.”

While this technology holds the promise of reducing accidental and crime-related shootings, some gun rights organizations are not ready to endorse it.

“It’s going to be powered by a chip and a battery. Batteries go, fail all the time,” said John Henry, executive director of Georgia Carry.

Henry said smart guns may not be so smart when it comes to reliable self-defense.

“I don’t like that you have to go through any other mechanism other than pointing and pulling the trigger,” Henry said.

I’m doubtful that there’s actually much of a market for “smart guns”, precisely because of this reason. It’s one thing to add battery-powered scopes, laser grips, or other accessories to a firearm. It’s something else entirely to make the firearm functional only through the use of battery-powered biometric or RFID technology, both of which come with limitations of their own. Fingerprints may not be easily read if you’ve got moisture on your hands, for example, while RFID technology requires a wearable in order for the gun to function, which could prevent off-hand use or being able to defend yourself at all if unless you’ve got your gun-ring on at all times.

If there’s a future for “smart guns” at all, it likely lies with law enforcement (and those sweet, sweet government contracts), and companies like Lodestar and SmartGunz say they’re working with police departments in testing the guns in the field. I can’t help but think, however, that police unions are going to object the first time a police chief in a progressive city announces they’re switching to “smart guns”, and that the main complaint is going to be exactly what we’ve been hearing from gun owners for years; an additional point of failure for an item they use in life-or-death situations isn’t something that they’re interested in or eager to adopt, either on the job on in their private lives.

It’s all hypothetical at the moment, because we still seem to be one step away from “smart guns” hitting the market… which has been the case for several years now. I’m not quite willing to call “smart guns” vaporware, but it does strike me as odd that these products are available to be trotted out in front of the media and investors, but are never quite ready for the store shelves.