Will the ‘smart gun’ finally hit the market?

His parents say that even at the age of 15, Ethan Song had big plans.

“He wanted to go to Rice University,” his mother, Kristen Song, said. He wanted to join the army. He wanted to marry and have seven children. He wanted his house to be full of laughter in music, like ours.”

But on January 31, 2018, the day he removed his calendar, those dreams faded. He and a friend were playing with a neighbor’s gun when Ethan accidentally shot him in the head. He survived about four minutes.

“Within an hour, I saw two police officers walking through our garden,” Kristen Song said. “Never in our wildest imaginations did we think our child was dead.”

Mike and Kristen Song with a photo of their son, Ethan Song, 15. Ethan died after accidentally shooting himself with a neighbor’s gun that was stored in a shoe closet.NBC News Now

Songs, from Guilford, Connecticut, has become an advocate of so-called smart guns, which are designed to be fired only by an authorized user, using fingerprint detection, Bluetooth connections and other technology that locks the gun to anyone else.

For years, companies unsuccessfully tried to bring such a product to the market, but now at least two companies say they are close. The CEO of one of them, LodeStar Works, called the songs a few months after Ethan’s death.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, Ethan could have saved a life,'” Kristen Song said.

LodeStar Works, based near Philadelphia, demonstrated a current prototype of the 9mm pistol at the firing range in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The smart technology includes three user verification methods. It can be unlocked with a fingerprint, a pin pad code, or a smartphone app that can be Bluetooth paired with the firearm.

The owner chooses which of the three methods is the primary method. The company says its gun will sell for about $900, compared to $600 for a typical pistol.

“Technology can work, and we make it work,” said Gareth Glaser, CEO of LodeStar. “Our authentication methods are reliable, they lock and unlock the firearm, and fire. Right now, it’s still just a prototype, and it’s in development. But that would be the main proposition of our company, which is that this is a very reliable and trustworthy technology.”

Larry Kane, senior lobbyist for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said his group is not opposed to smart weapons, but he doubts they can work as promised.

“If the battery fails, and you can’t use the firearm in a time of need, someone breaks into your house, to commit rape, murder, whatever, that’s a bad outcome if you have that firearm to protect yourself,” he said.

“The technology is not there yet,” he added. “It hasn’t been commercialized at this point. And I’ve heard, in my career, of controversy and claims by developers that they will bring their product to market in a matter of weeks, months, next year. It has never happened yet.”

Glaser said the LodeStar pistol can be set to fire if the battery fails.

“When I hear people say, ‘I don’t trust technology,’ I say why would you take a horse and buggy to work today? No, you drove a car full of technology, right?” he said. “Although it is not perfect, it is very reliable.”

Polls show that many gun owners may be willing to pay a premium for more safety. according to Morning Consultation In a study released last month, 55 percent of gun owners and 39 percent of people who don’t own guns report that they would be comfortable using a smart gun.

“My understanding of smart weapons is that they know their owner’s fingerprint,” said Mike Song. “And Ethan wouldn’t have had that fingerprint, that gun would have simply frozen his hand. And that would have been a great moment.”

Glaser said he hopes the LodeStar pistol will hit the market in the spring of 2023. If that happens, it would be the end of a journey that began in the 1990s, when firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson floated the idea of ​​the smart gun as part of a legal settlement.

But a boycott by gun rights groups nearly wiped out the company. A German company tried again a few years ago, but a hacker showed how easily the gun could be opened with a magnet.

Experts said the biggest obstacle was 2002 New Jersey The law required that all new guns sold in the state be equipped with this technology. They said the backlash against this law stifled innovation and poisoned the political debate over smart weapons. The law has since been repealed.

The technology cannot be timely, Glaser said. Gun ownership has skyrocketed during the pandemic, as have mishaps. One firearms safety group, Everytown for Gun Safety, counted nearly 400 unintentional shootings by children in the past year alone, killing 163 people.

On Sunday, he accidentally turns a 3-year-old Shot himself to death in FloridaAnd last week, a killing a small child Another was wounded in Louisiana when one of the children got hold of a loaded pistol.

But gun safety advocates have said the year-long wait for smart weapons is too long. Kristen and Mike Song were working on the pass Ethan’s Lawa bill proposed in Congress that would require gun owners to store their guns safely or face criminal penalties.

Kristen Song said of Ethan, “I wanted to go in and sit with him and above all, I apologize, because I really felt like I let him down. I felt like my job was to protect my child, and I didn’t.”

Said Mike Song: “The effect of losing a child like this suddenly to gun violence is infinite. It’s a mountain of pain that crushes you. Then you cry a river of tears. Then you wake up and do it again the next day.”

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