How Fingerprint Technology could Weigh Heavily in Gun Control Debate

Gun control is a major debate, triggered by both the Sandy Hook shooting and, more recently, a rash of incidents with young children getting hold of firearms and tragedy resulting.

In fact, one of the reasons touted by those in favor of significantly reducing access to firearms is children having access to the weapons. Even most gun advocates agree that gun owners have a responsibility to prevent their guns from being fired by children. On top of that, there is always the concern that your gun will be used against you.

Currently, there are two major systems that are used to keep that from happening. Trigger locks are designed to prevent unauthorized or unintentional discharge of a gun by a simple lock and key mechanism. They are disliked by gun users, who feel that they may make it harder to use a personal protection weapon in time. The second method is to store all guns in a gun safe when not in use, thus providing maximum security - with the protocol being that the weapon is either in the safe or being carried by its owner. Gun safes are popular with hunters. (If small children are a worry, then simply keeping the gun out of reach or in a secure drawer is sufficient). Gun safes can be locked with padlocks, combination locks, or biometric locks such as fingerprint readers.

Which brings us to fingerprint technology. One of the dreams of the gun industry is the smart gun. The smart gun will fire only if an authorized user is detected, usually by means of reading the owners' fingerprints. Unfortunately, smart gun technology does not work - yet. These guns are not reliable and require batteries to operate - should the lock go on or off if the battery dies. As of right now, smart guns are no better than trigger locks, although they would at least address the speed issue if they could be perfected.

A new company believes they may have solved the problem with technology that combines the fingerprint reader with a "tape switch" - a form of deadman's currently used by police and military to operate gun mounted flashlights. As of right now, there is a law on the books to force hand gun suppliers to sell a trigger lock with every weapon and some gun control advocates are promoting the idea that all guns should be locked when not in use. Fingerprint technology would overcome the problems with a trigger lock (it makes the gun useless in a genuine emergency) whilst still preventing children or intruders from firing the weapon. This means that if the technology can be made reliable we may see a campaign to have it made mandatory for all new weapons.

Would that be a good thing or a bad? Many gun control advocates feel that it would only have a minimal effect, as most homicides are committed with the perpetrator's own gun. Others argue that it is worth it simply for the potential of avoiding more tragic accidents. And finally, some people on both sides of the debate feel that marketing a "safer" gun is a bad idea - it might encourage people to buy guns who otherwise might not.

In the mean time, the best place for a gun that is not in use is the gun safe.

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