WASHINGTON, D.C. — The New Jersey Institute of Technology is using sensors to recognize grips and grasping behaviors. Kodiak Arms, a Utah company, is taking pre-orders for its Intelligun, which is unlocked with fingerprints. Other companies are using voice recognition. Yardarm, a California start-up, uses a smartphone app to notify gun owners of a weapon's movement. Users can even remotely disable their weapons.
Smart guns, advocates say, will have huge appeal to buyers. "If you have two cars and one has and air bag and one doesn't, are you going to buy the one without the air bag?" said Belinda Padilla, president of Armatix's U.S. operation. "It's your choice, but why would you do that?"
Personalizing handguns for safety is actually an old idea. In 1886, after D.B. Wesson, the co-founder of Smith & Wesson, heard about a child injured with a gun, the company introduced a revolver with a special lever that made the gun operational. The product became nothing more than a historical relic.
Over the years, the idea of making guns smart has waxed and waned until a serious effort began in the early 1990s. Stephen Teret, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, commissioned undergraduate engineering students to build what turned out to be a crude smart gun activated by a ring. Later in the 1990s, the federal government researched smart guns to protect police officers whose guns were taken in struggles.
In 2000, after Colt had quietly worked on smart-gun technology, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, D, tried and failed to pass legislation mandating smart guns in the state. His effort was lauded by then-President Bill Clinton, whose administration struck a deal with Smith & Wesson to research the technology. But the backlash by gun owners and the NRA against the company was brutal, and Smith & Wesson's business tanked.