SAN JOSE, Calif. – A high-tech startup is wading into the gun control debate with a wireless controller that would allow gun owners to know when their weapon is being moved – and disable it remotely.
The technology, but not an actual gun, was demonstrated Tuesday at a wireless technology conference in Las Vegas. It comes at a time when lawmakers around the U.S. are considering contentious smart gun laws that would require new guns to include high-tech devices that limit who can fire them.
The new Yardarm Technologies LLC system would trigger an alarm on an owner’s cellphone if a gun is moved, and the owner could then hit a button to activate the safety and disable the weapon. New guns would come with a microchip on the body and antennas winding around the grip. It would add about $50 to the cost of a gun and about $12 a year for the service.
“The idea is to connect gun owners more directly with their guns, no matter what the circumstance,” said Yardarm CEO Robert Stewart.
The Yardarm system is one of several recently introduced high-tech offerings: The iGun only fires if it recognizes a ring on a finger, the Intelligun uses a fingerprint locking system and TriggerSmart uses radio frequency identification.
The first smart guns were proposed more than 20 years ago, but they failed to take off for several reasons: questionable technology, added costs and concerns from some gun rights advocates about limitations on Second Amendment rights.
Recent high-profile shootings, combined with new technologies, have revived interest. Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit created by Newtown, Conn., community members, is offering venture capital for new gun safety technologies, and President Barack Obama included smart guns as part of his plan to reduce gun violence.
Stewart said his company has addressed privacy concerns about its system, which would not only include live tracking but also a history of where a gun has been. Yardarm has an exclusive telephony network to avoid hackers and spotty wireless systems, and gun owners could “self-destruct” the technology on the guns themselves if they wish, he said.
National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said his organization is concerned about added costs and the reliability of smart guns in general.
“We believe that the technology does not exist today where a so-called smart gun can operate with 100 percent or close to it reliability,” he said, “and a firearm that does not function when it is required to is not a smart gun.”
The added costs are “a luxury tax on self-defense,” Arulanandam said.
At this point, there are no guns that can be wirelessly tracked or disabled, but there are systems that can locate and disable stolen cars. In 2011, one such company, OnStar LLC, came under fire for continuing to track customers’ locations even after they discontinued their service. The company reversed the policy after a barrage of privacy complaints.
Last week, lawmakers in California and Massachusetts considered proposals to require gun makers to add high tech safety devices that allow only their owners to fire them. New Jersey has adopted a similar law.
Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, said his organization has no position on smart guns. However, he said he does oppose federal tax dollars for their research because they wouldn’t impact the 310 million firearms already circulating in the U.S. today.
Donald Sebastian, a senior vice president at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is developing a smart gun aftermarket conversion that would work on semi-automatic weapons, and he said the public may be ready for widespread adoption of smart guns.
“It’s been a long, tough battle to get any acceptance of technologies in weapons, but today there’s just more general acceptance of electronics in our lives, more than even five years ago,” he said. “Also, frankly, this whole stream of mass killings is really making people recognize the need for something to change.”