Startups creating smart guns have the creativity and the will, they just need the funding.
Terry CollinsStaff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
There's demand out there for smart guns. The trouble is, smart gun startups aren't attracting the funding they need to bring their products to market.
That's the reality check from smart gun makers and proponents who gathered Tuesday at a smart gun symposium in San Francisco. They say support is building for smart guns after a gruesome year of shootings in Paris; Roseburg, Oregon; Charleston, South Carolina; and San Bernardino, California. Even so, it's going to take some creative thinking to get gun manufacturers and lobby groups to adopt technologies that could reduce gun-related violence. An estimated 33,000 Americans die each year from gun-shot wounds.
"The gun companies have chosen to sit on their asses and not innovate while Silicon Valley and the [San Francisco] Bay Area are coming to their rescue," leading angel investor Ron Conway told attendees. "The tech industry had to get involved in this."
Smart guns use radio signals or fingerprint scanners to identify who's pulling the trigger so that only the owner can fire the weapon. Tuesday's event is the latest indication that smart technologies could finally be coming to a gun dealer near you. No US dealer currently sells guns equipped with smart technology, and some dealers who attempted to sell them have received death threats.
"We're close to seeing a major breakthrough," said Ralph Fascitelli, president of Washington CeaseFire, a gun-control group based in Seattle. "We want to move from theory to a reality that will save lives."
The Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, spearheaded by Conway, aims to get more smart people building the technology. Since 2014, the nonprofit has donated more than $1 million total to a dozen designers creating safer guns. Many are poised to take the next step: seeking venture capital to launch their companies.
On Tuesday, Conway singled out 18-year-old Kai Kloepfer of Boulder, Colorado, who's spent the last three years creating a smart gun using fingerprint technology. "He is going to disrupt the gun industry," said Conway, calling the teen "the Mark Zuckerberg of smart guns."
Kloepfer, who delayed attending MIT for a year, said he expects to have a working prototype in about a month, and a product to market in a year or two.
"Congrats, you are going to save America," Conway said.
"There is no quick fix," said Margot Hirsch, executive director of the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation. "This will take time, focus and tenacity to overcome hurdles and bring technologies that will reduce injuries and save lives. And it will take investors who want to make an impact -- both financially and socially."