WASHINGTON, D.C. — The question is: How many people will buy smart guns?
There are dueling statistics on the issue. Teret and other smart-gun proponents point to a 1997 survey showing that 71 percent of Americans — 59 percent among gun owners — favored personalization of all new handguns. Guns-rights advocates, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation, point to a survey the group commissioned last year showing that only 14 percent of Americans would consider buying a smart gun.
Statistics, of course, can be interpreted many ways, and at least one smart-gun entrepreneur saw the 14 percent as a positive sign. "I thought that was actually a huge number," said Robert McNamara, co-founder of TriggerSmart, the Irish company using RFID chips. "There is no doubt that a lot of people would buy these guns if they are available."
The cost is high. Amatrix's iP1, a .22-caliber pistol, is $1,399 — plus $399 for the watch. A .40-caliber Glock handgun can be had for about $600.
The chief concern for potential buyers is reliability, with 44 percent of those polled by the National Shooting Sports Foundation saying the technology would not be reliable. A commenter in an online Glock forum explained the concern this way: "They can't even make a cellphone that works reliably when you need it, and some dumb (expletive) thinks he can make a reliable techno-gadget gun that is supposed to safeguard you in dire circumstances?"
Twenty minutes later someone responded: "You bet your life."
Teret and others point to now-commonplace safety enhancements that Americans were skeptical about at first: air bags and smoke detectors. "They thought the air bag would kill them," said Teret, who did early work on air-bag technology. "They thought it would shove them out the back window, that it would explode. It takes awhile to dispel these mythologies."