The school boy from Karachi knew he wasn’t supposed to, but he got hold of it anyway.
It was his father’s handgun, and he was showing it to a classmate who was visiting him at home. What happened next was tragic. The gun went off accidently, shooting the visiting youngster in the head and killing him.
This was nearly twenty years ago, and gun fatalities at the hands of youngsters in Pakistan have only worsened. GunPolicy.org estimates that at least 18,000,000 guns are owned by civilians in Pakistan. The same website indicates that in 2011, there were nearly 14,000 homicides.
Alarmingly, the statistic has been growing every year. Although most of these deaths are probably unavoidable, perhaps some, especially those at the hands of young people who had no business handling a gun, could be avoided in the future, thanks to what is being called ‘smart guns’ technology.
New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) researchers are working on a design which personalises a handgun to the point where it only works in the hand of the owner. This means that stolen guns, which are often used in crimes, will be useless in the hands of perpetrators.
How does the NJIT smart gun distinguish between a friend and foe? Well, the ‘dynamic grip’ of the smart gun boasts sensors which are similar to those on the fingerprint scanner of a laptop, just more advanced. There are sixteen sensors to be exact, and according to American politician Jon Corzine, who backs the technology, the smart gun is ‘cutting edge’. Donald H. Sebastian, senior Vice President for Research & Development at NJIT, elaborates on the smart gun’s biometric technology, “Fingerprints and retinas number among the best known markers. Identifying a person by such attributes is called the science of biometrics.”
Such biometrics is the pillar of the Dynamic Grip Recognition, measuring the physical signatures of a person’s hand. These signatures not only scan the size of a person’s hand, but the way he/she shoots as well, “This technology is similar to how electronic machines read an individual’s signature upon completing a credit card transaction.”
Another such company is Armatix USA, which is currently selling weapons to customers worldwide. Their smart guns are activated by a watch and a PIN, and only those wearing the watch can use the guns. According to Armatix, after the PIN is entered by the authorised person, the digital key and the blocking device exchange encrypted data in a process to unlock the weapon that only takes place “slightly longer” than normal. If the Armatix smart gun falls into the wrong hands, the weapon deactivates thanks to a retrofitted blocking device which is fitted into the barrel of the gun.
Not everyone considers smart guns to be a surefire hit, however. For example, many people with fingerprint scanners on their laptops have trouble logging into their computers because the scanner refuses to work the first time. Although a few seconds’ delay is merely frustrating for computer users, such a delay could mean the difference between life and death during an emergency where a smart gun is required.