WASHINGTON, D.C. — The debate then over whether the technology was ready and reliable and whether it would actually make a difference has crossed into the current burst of interest. Some of the sharpest criticism comes from an unlikely corner — the Violence Policy Center, a staunch advocate to reduce gun violence.
Policy Center officials argue that the new technology is unlikely to stem gun homicides, which often occur between people who know each other, and that personalization will have no effect on the more than 300 million guns in circulation. The organization also questions whether the technology would deter the nearly 350,000 incidents of firearm theft per year, though some of the proposed technologies are add-ons installed on existing guns.
And perhaps most importantly, the Violence Policy Center worries that smart guns will increase the number of gun owners, because marketing around safety could sway those previously opposed to guns to make their first purchase.
"We are very skeptical of what this technology can accomplish," said Josh Sugarmann, the organization's executive director. "You're really affecting a very small portion of the gun-buying public."
Proponents of smart guns dispute the criticism. They point to studies that hint at potentially significant reductions in gun deaths, particularly high-profile ones among children. In 2010, children accounted for 9 percent of the 606 unintentional or accidental gun deaths in the United States. A smart gun, proponents say, could prevent those deaths.
As for school shootings, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in 2003 analyzing firearms used by students in 323 shootings on school campuses found that 37 percent of the guns came from the shooter's home and 23 percent from a friend or relative. A smart gun, proponents say, could prevent those deaths.
"These guns are not going to rescue us from the 32,000 gun deaths a year," Teret said, "but they are going to materially reduce gun deaths in the United States."