On Thursday, May 21, I attended the first ever Smart Tech Gun Fair in the nation, hosted by the New Rochelle, NY Police Department. What is a “smart gun?” It’s a gun that can only be used by the authorized user (think about a “smart phone”).
There are a variety of ways to do this. One rifle requires the user to wear a special ring that activates the unlocking device. Other companies at the fair focused on biometrics, including hand grip or fingerprint recognition. Another company focused on a mechanical lock that can be retrofitted to a regularly sold gun.
The goal of this event was to initiate discussions between smart-gun developers, law enforcement leaders, and public officials. Five developers were present, including one who brought a market-ready smart rifle whose technology could be applied to a handgun.
Lisa Reisboard, Temple B’nai Abraham Social Action Committee chair, and I went to the event with NJ Together, part of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation. NJ Together has been focused on the issue of gun safety for the past two years. My friend Rabbi Joel Mosbacher is a leader of this local and national issue, personally touched by the tragedy of his own father’s murder by gun violence 16 years ago.
Smart guns are one part of Metro IAF’s Do Not Stand Idly By Campaign against gun violence. Forty percent of guns manufactured are paid for by taxpayers, for the military and police. Over 70 municipalities, states, and counties across the nation have signed on to an RFI (Request for Information) indicating the next time they purchase guns, they will inquire about gun distribution and possible smart gun technology. Lisa and I spoke to the Livingston Town Council along with TBA Social Action Committee member Bob Singer and members of the Livingston Clergy Association in Spring 2014 and are proud the Council signed on to the RFI.
It was great to see NJ State Senator Loretta Weinberg at the New Rochelle event. I sat with her and publicly thanked her during the opening session. Sen. Weinberg championed New Jersey’s Childproof Handgun Law of 2002, which had terrific intentions but, lawmakers agree, needs to be replaced. The current legislation, never implemented, requires that as soon as a smart gun is sold anywhere in the country, within three years, all handguns in NJ must be smart guns. The unintended result is that sellers are reluctant to market a gun that would limit the sales of other guns, thereby stifling a potential emerging smart gun market.
Margot Hirsch, of the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, spoke about the $1 million dollar challenge, begun by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs two years ago, to be awarded to developers of marketable technologies that could prevent accidental deaths and reduce violent crime. “What Tesla and Uber have done [for the electric car and the ride-sharing industry], we hope someone can do for the gun industry,” she said.
The Smart Tech Gun Fair was an opportunity for police and individuals to see how the technology works. Clergy, police chiefs, mayors, and lay leaders from five states — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Ohio — attended. It was amazing to meet Kai Kloepfer, an 18-year-old Colorado high school student. He graduated a few days ago and is deferring his studies at MIT to pursue smart gun technology with his company AeGen Technology. Kai is from Boulder, about half an hour from where the Aurora movie theater massacre occurred. He explained that focusing on smart technology, through fingerprint recognition and other methods, is a good opportunity to avoid accidental deaths through unauthorized use.
As someone who is not a gun enthusiast, I thought it was imperative to touch and try the technology. It was a wild experience for me to fire a smart rifle. The gun requires the authorized user to wear a special ring. Without it, it does not unlock. It can be applied to a handgun as well. The technology has been around for 15 years, but the market for the technology has not been developed, in part because the firearms lobby insists smart gun technology is not reliable and that smart gun legislation will limit the sales of other weapons. As Rabbi Mosbacher said, “the gun industry is stuck in the typewriter” era.
Every 30 minutes another child dies or is injured by a firearm. We owe it to the present and the future not to stand idly by.