Is politics stifling innovation in smart gun technology? (VIDEO)

Smart guns – the topic is more mired in politics and controversy than it is flourishing in innovation and while you still can’t buy a gun that works only for its owner, there are companies working on bringing those products to market.

Fingerprint scanning for handheld devices is fairly new and the latest iteration can be found in Apple’s iPhone.  Georgia-based company Safe Gun Technology uses a similar scanner embedded in its pistol grips to identify a weapon’s owner.

“Gun owners who have children in the home want an added layer of security and we’ve come to them and we’ve asked them ‘Hey, hey what is it that could look like using a fingerprint?’” said company spokesperson Tom Lynch. “What do you need it to do, what do you not need it to do?”      

Proponents of the technology say it’s another step in preventing accidental discharges in the home.

“We felt there was a need to … tackle this from a completely different angle by passing the political gridlock,” said Margot Hirsch, president of the Smart Tech Foundation, a group that funds the development of innovating products in smart gun technology.

Those lauding the virtues of the technology say that gun rights groups are hindering the success of the smart gun.

“Some people and some organizations view any law that has anything to do with guns whatsoever as something that they consider gun control and they will automatically oppose,” said Juliet Leftwich of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Opponents call the technology gun control in disguise and point to a 2002 law mandating the exclusive sale of personalized guns in New Jersey once the firearms are sold anywhere else in the US.

“The purpose of the law was to encourage development and to say ‘look, we’ll have a great marketplace here once such a gun is developed,’” New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg told Guns.com.

Weinberg sponsored that bill. She recently spoke at an event in Seattle, co-hosted by gun control group Washington Ceasefire, which highlighted several smart gun products currently in development.

Weinberg offered a compromise to the National Rifle Association in May, saying she would work to repeal the mandate in exchange for its cooperation on smart guns.

“The NRA, the Gun Owners of America, those people who have stood in the way – not only of the retail sales, they have also gone after gun manufacturers who were beginning to develop other technology other than Armatix,” Weinberg told MSNBC.

The NRA hasn’t responded to Weinberg’s request, but did tell Guns.com the group isn’t standing in the way of smart guns.

“I don’t think the NRA was responsible for that. I think it’s gun owners who don’t want the government mandating what type of firearm they have,” Catherine Mortensen, media liaison for the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, told Guns.com.

The New Jersey mandate hasn’t been triggered yet, but Armatix has come close. The state’s Attorney General, John J. Hoffman, recently decided the German company’s pistol didn’t meet the state’s definition of a personalized handgun because it requires a watch to be within close proximity to the weapon for it to operate.

Radio-frequency identification is a common technology used in everyday life. A company called TriggerSmart is using RFID in its trigger assembly and is currently seeking funding to bring its smart gun to market.

“I need to get a production model gun ready and that needs more funding. It’s going to take more money and so far all the money that’s gone into … doing the research and development has come from my own pocket,” said TriggerSmart’s Robert McNamara, who received a $100,000 grant from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation for the development of his prototype.

Politics aside, there seem to be two major hurdles facing smart guns – funding for development and the potential prohibitive cost of integrating the safety technology. Armatix’s iP1, for example, is a .22-caliber pistol that retails at $1,800, more than four times the cost of a regular small caliber pistol.