The Colorado “smart” gun company Biofire has made some smart moves of its own over the past few months as it’s started to take pre-orders for its product, which founder Kai Kloepfer says will start shipping later this year. Kloepfer has said his company will not submit its 9mm pistol to the state of New Jersey for inclusion in its mandate that gun shops must carry a “smart” gun in stock once one comes to market, and recently submitted an amicus letter in support of the plaintiffs challenging California’s Unsafe Handgun Act, arguing that the law “stifles innovation” and customer choice… and not incidentally, prevents Biofire’s pistols from being sold in the state because they lack so-called safety features like microstamping.
But don’t expect Kloepfer or the company he founded a decade ago to weigh in on hot button issues like bans on so-called assault weapons, “red flag” laws, or waiting periods. In an interview with Bearing Arms Cam & Co, Kloepfer maintained that his goal is to sell as many of his guns as possible to a wide variety of customers across the political spectrum.
“The way that we approach this is Biofire’s goal is to expansively serve our customers as best as we can, and those customers have all sorts of opinions about pretty much any aspect of guns in general. Personally, I own multiple short barreled rifles and other things that you would consider to be an ‘assault weapon’ under Colorado law, and I would have been personally impacted by that piece of regulation, and so certainly that wasn’t something I was personally in favor of, but from a company’s perspective we’re really laser-focused on how can we build a community for all of our customers and one that serves our needs. So again, if it’s things like the microstamping requirements or the New Jersey mandate that are directly related to our property we’ll engage, but otherwise we’re a member of the NSSF and we pay our dues like everyone else.”
Kloepfer may not want Biofire to be front-and-center in the gun control culture wars, but I don’t know that he or his company are going to be able to remain conscientious objectors for long.
“Our goal is not to be on one side or the other of the issue from a product perspective, because as you said we have a lot of customers who have opinions about products that don’t impact us and don’t impact our product. I don’t think we’re disconnected in any way. We’re a part of the firearms industry, and internally I would say we have a lot of healthy debates about topics exactly like this because we have folks that similarly approach from all different perspectives. We have folks with ‘arsenals’ who work here and we have folks who’ve never shot a gun before working at Biofire, so internally and from an ongoing perspective I like to encourage and foster a lot of debate around these topics of like ‘what can we be doing to be serving our customers and the country more broadly’, and the one that we’ve chosen is ‘how can we build technology that is inherently better for gun owners and better for society’, right? If people choose to adopt our product no one will argue and say less kids finding guns and maybe having a bad thing happen, like no one’s against that, right? But the only way we can have an impact there is if people choose to buy our product. And so it won’t solve the entirety of the impact of guns on our society, it won’t solve by any means the Second Amendment versus gun control debate, but there have been a lot of people smarter than me who are engaged in this issue much more actively, and at some point you have to pick and choose your battles a little bit.”
I’m not convinced that’s a viable long-term PR strategy for Biofire, especially because of the unique space it has in the firearms industry at large. I don’t think many gun owners would object to the company picking battles that have a direct impact on its bottom line, but keeping mum on the ongoing attacks against the Second Amendment is likely to alienate at least some potential customers. For now, however, Kloepfer seems pleased with the pre-sales of Biofire’s pistol, and he did say that as more product becomes available he does plan to ship guns out for independent testing and evaluation from those in the 2A community.
While today’s conversation focused mainly on the politics of “smart guns” and their role in the gun control debate, I’m hoping to continue the discussion with Kloepfer in the near future to talk about the tech inside his product; not just the biometric sensor and infrared face scanner used to unlock the pistol for authorized users, but the fire-by-wire system that the pistol uses. As the folks at Open Source Defense recently opined:
In all the discussion of the details and implications (both technical and legal) of a biometric-locked gun, folks missed the tech development here that, if it’s pursued, is actually going to have the biggest impact on the future of guns. To make the authentication more robust to someone simply opening the gun up and removing a physical lock, Biofire implemented a fire-by-wire system. The gun has no mechanical link between the trigger and the sear. When you pull the trigger, three things happen:
- An onboard computer detects that the trigger has been pressed.
- The computer runs some code and decides what to do.
- The gun fires.
Pay attention to step 2. Guns just became software.
In this particular case, Biofire has built a piece of software whose job it is to fire a bullet if and only if an authorized user says to. Yeah, biometrics are controversial, etc etc. That’s beside the point. Remember the properties of software — it’s flexible. Once fire-by-wire works, sure you can use it to do biometric auth. But you don’t have to use it for that. Alternatively or additionally, you can use it to do, oh, anything you want.
People pay a lot of money for fancy triggers today. How about a trigger that can be programmed to have any weight, any number of stages, any feel to the break? And the ability to change all of that anytime you want, or even from shot to shot.
You could do built-in round counters. A built-in shot timer that can show you millisecond analytics on every step of your firing sequence. Strava for guns. Target lock, where the gun only lets a round fly when the sights have settled back onto the target. And the most important thing: the stuff we can’t think of today. The real power of decentralized innovation is in the uses of it that can’t be anticipated. Fire-by-wire makes guns — the literal physical objects — programmable, so for the first time it allows innovation in how guns work to move at the speed of software.
That goes way beyond Biofire. You can imagine a bunch of gun companies making fire-by-wire systems, and then an entire ecosystem of fire control software (both open- and closed-source) on top of that. (Side note: the first prosecution for machine gun software is going to be an interesting test case, and in a facts-on-the-ground sense, widespread fire-by-wire will be the end of machine gun regulation. Get ready for a court case about whether possession of a machine gun download is a felony.)
If fire-by-wire takes hold, it’s going to change the industry. Literally — it’ll be a different set of companies. History tells us that when an industry’s foundational technology changes, most of the incumbent companies don’t survive the shift. This is textbook innovator’s dilemma stuff. If your core competency needs to change from selling pistol contracts to the government to writing consumer software that integrates with the top 2-3 most popular fire control APIs, it’s probably not going to go well for you.
But it’s going to go great for consumers, because it means they’re benefitting from competition. We’re not sure if fire-by-wire is going to spread. But if it does, it’s already pretty certain what that scenario is going to look like: tons of new companies popping up to innovate in guns at the speed of software; guns becoming increasingly personalized, easy to use, and hard to restrict; and consumers benefitting from the booming ecosystem.
Again, Kloepfer might not want Biofire to be front and center in the gun control debate, but if the technology he’s developing works as planned I don’t think he’s gonna have much of a choice.
Check out the entire conversation with Kai Kloepfer in the video window below, and let us know what you think about “smart” guns in the comments, along with any questions you might have if and when Kloepfer joins us for another appearance on Cam & Company.