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News
A business in gun safety?
April 30, 1999: 12:29 a.m. ET

Coalition promotes law that would require 'smart guns' to identify owner
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Bryan Miller traveled the world for more than 20 years, for employers like the United States Department of Commerce, exporting American made products overseas, from glassware to pleasure boats. But his life of on the road ended two days before Thanksgiving, 1994, when his younger brother, FBI agent Michael Miller, was gunned down, killed in the line of duty.
     "He was working at Washington, D.C., police headquarters, an FBI special agent on loan," Miller said, "and a man with a concealed weapon walked into a place full of trained and armed police officers, and he was able to walk in, open a door and open fire."
     It became clear to Miller that his corporate savvy could be used to keep deadly weapons from those not authorized to use them: Today he is executive director of Ceasefire New Jersey, a coalition taking aim at the firearms industry. He's a man with a mission, and a weapon he thinks could stop gun violence.
     "You sweep your finger over the sensor. ... A flood of images goes from the fingerprint sensor into our chip," said Steve Morton, CEO of Oxford Micro Devices. "A fingerprint sensor in one of our tiny image processor chips is built into the handle of a gun. ... You grab the gun, you sweep the finger over the sensor and, in less than a heartbeat, if you are authorized to fire the gun, you can. Otherwise you can't."
     Morton said this prototype could be the future of gun safety, a concept as simple as barcodes at the supermarket checkout. If the fingerprint that sweeps the sensor matches the fingerprint on the chip in the gun handle, the gun will fire. This smart gun, Morton said, will be designed to store multiple chips so a husband and wife, or business partners, can share the same weapon.
     "If the gun is knocked out of your hand, it would be disarmed. If the gun were stolen from you, if your little one tried to pick it up, the gun would not fire," Morton said.
     The system will also work on lock boxes and safes. It's not future technology, says Morton said. It's here now.
    
Is technology needed?

     So why isn't it on the market? Paul Jannuzzo, vice president and general counsel of Glock Inc., the handgun manufacturer, says a "smart gun" is technology we probably don't need.
     "For a homeowner like myself, it's not necessary. I've got a safe. That's my smart gun technology," Jannuzzo said. "My wife knows the combination. None of my kids do and to date, none of them know how to use a welding torch, so I don't think they're going to get in there."
     But Miller said there is another agenda at work, and his organization, Ceasefire New Jersey, has put a bill on the table to challenge the firearms industry. "We very clearly devoted the great bulk of our time to passage in New Jersey of legislation, what we call our 'childproof handgun' bill."
     If passed, the new law would give manufacturers three years to create a "smart gun" -- a personalized handgun that will only fire for a recognized shooter.
     "They certainly have spent millions of dollars in developing more lethal weapons. They could certainly be using that same money or a portion of that money, to develop safe weapons," Miller said. "The patents that are out there were mainly created by individuals, a man with an idea."
     A man with plans, like Steve Morton, who testified to the New Jersey legislature earlier this year about why his system, while still in development, could be the future of responsible gun ownership.
     "Once the shootings occurred in Jonesboro and people asked if there is hope for the future, is there hope tragedies like this can be avoided, we stood up to be counted and said yes, there is hope," Morton said.
     But for some gun manufacturers, that hope is a distant one:
     "Our take on it is that if it is developed, it has to be reliable and affordable, and once those two things are accomplished, I'm sure whoever does it will have an early retirement," said Glock's Jannuzzo.
    
Colt's research effort

     But what's "reliable and affordable" within the firearms industry means what is "reliable and affordable" for police and other law enforcement officials -- not for private citizens and small business owners. One major firearms company, Colt Manufacturing, is leading the industry is "smart gun" research and development:
     Colt Manufacturing did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story, but, as its Web site carefully explains, Colt received a federal grant of a half-million dollars, and help from the National Institute of Justice, to produce a smart gun. But Colt isn't developing this weapon for personal protection. The company is concerned about police killed on the job with their own weapon. Colt's prototype isn't based on a microchip, or fingerprint, system and is designed for law enforcement use only.
     While Colt has government development funds, the company says its smart gun is years away from reality. Ceasefire's Miller said the delay is not about technology.
     "Our experience is that Colt has gone from being very excited about being first to market a new product to being very skittish," he said, "because this huge lobbying organization is telling them don't do it. Don't talk positively about the technology, don't testify in favor of it. ..."
     Miller said the legislation proposed by Ceasefire New Jersey creates a reason -- and a deadline -- for manufacturers to design and implement the technology, just like seat belts and airbags becoming standard issue in American automobiles.
     "Passage of our bill gives an out for a company. A company can now say, 'We can't stop it. We just can't say to New Jersey, we're not selling any handguns there,'" Miller said. "At that point they say to the gun lobby, 'Our hands are tied. We have to go forward and develop this product and get it into this market.' "
     Steve Morton estimated his technology will add about $100 to the price of a handgun. Right now, he's trying to raise about $5 million, allowing him to take Oxford Micro Devices public. But if Morton can't raise capital, he has another wish:
     "It would be for a major gun manufacturer to walk in tomorrow and say, 'Steve, how can we help? ... How can we help you get this technology to market as quickly as possible?'"Back to top

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