At this year’s CES trade show in Las Vegas, you’d have been hard-pressed to find one newfangled piece of consumer technology. Among the 3,631 exhibitors hawking smart cars and drones, not to mention alarm clocks that emit smells, this month’s gadget extravaganza included just one presenter showing off smart-gun technology, according to the show’s organizers. And the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES, hasn’t discussed encouraging more smart guns at future shows. At the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, which starts Tuesday in Vegas, it’s a similar story. Smart-gun tech will almost entirely be absent from the list of the 1,600 exhibitors at the self-billed “largest and most comprehensive” annual gun show.
“There might be some people talking about it, but nothing that comes to my attention indicates there will be any such authorized-user technology demonstrations,” said Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which runs the SHOT Show.
That’s how far smart guns — which use radio signals or fingerprint scanners to ensure a weapon can be fired only by its owner — are from the mainstream. They’re a no-show at both these major conferences, and they’re apparently not much of a topic of conversation among those who might be most interested.
It’s not as though the broader public hasn’t had guns on the mind. The past year brought a number of high-profile mass shootings, in San Bernardino, California; Charleston, South Carolina; and Roseburg, Oregon, which prompted stirring calls for some sort of response, be it political or technological. President Barack Obama has called for more research into smart-gun technology, helping highlight the handful of small players developing these products.
Proponents say such weapons could cut down on stolen guns, gun accidents and school shootings. But many gun enthusiasts are steadfast against the technology.
“It’s not just a question of lack of demand,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who focuses on the Second Amendment and gun control. “There’s very strong opposition to smart-gun tech in the gun world.”
That’s because a vocal contingent of gun owners see smart guns as a potential form of gun control. They’ve raised concerns, Winkler said, that if such guns gain a foothold, the technologies behind them could become a requirement for all guns, resulting in a ban on sales of traditional guns. Those fighting against smart guns need only point to a New Jersey law passed in 2002 called the Childproof Handgun Act. It mandates that three years after smart guns become available for sale anywhere in the country, Jersey gun dealers sell only smart guns.
Such concerns led to customer boycotts of gun manufacturers, including Colt and Smith & Wesson, when they pursued smart-gun technology. Gun dealers who have considered selling such firearms have been boycotted too. One Maryland dealer even faced death threats when he attempted to offer smart guns. Currently, there are no US gun dealers who stock smart guns.
Critics of smart guns also point to their potentially unreliable electronic parts, as well as their higher cost when compared with traditional guns.
Despite the blowback, there’s evidence the general public is interested in smart guns. In a survey of US consumers last year by researcher Penn Schoen Berland, two-thirds of respondents said they believed dealers should be allowed to sell smart guns, and 40 percent of those who identified themselves as gun owners said they’d consider swapping their firearms for smart guns. Respondents were evenly split on whether all firearms sold should require smart-gun technology.
Though the NSSF, the gun industry’s main trade group, and the National Rifle Association say they aren’t against smart-gun technology, they’ve been seen as working to suppress smart guns and fighting against any law that mandates their use, Winkler said. Because of that situation, he added, it would seem a maker of smart-guns would be a rather unwelcome sight at the SHOT Show.
“There’s no such technology that is ready for a store,” he said. “Distributors and retailers come to the show to see products that they can order and put in their inventory for sale.”
With a crowd of tech enthusiasts, CES might seem to be a more promising place for smart-gun makers to show their products. The show, however, would have to change its regulations to allow firearms. At the 2016 show, no “weapons of any kind” were permitted on the premises, and demonstrations involving guns were banned. The Las Vegas Convention Center, long the marquee venue for CES, requires several special approvals to allow the display of guns there.
Getting those approvals doesn’t appear to be high on the Consumer Technology Association’s list of priorities.
“We don’t have an official stance on growing smart guns’ presence on the CES 2017 show floor,” a CTA spokeswoman said, “but we are always keeping an eye out for tech that solves real-world problems.”
That situation proved frustrating for Omer Kiyani, founder of Detroit-based Sentinl, the sole smart-gun presenter at CES this year. Kiyani wanted to show his first gun-safety product, a $300 biometric gun lock called the Identilock. In 2014, he received a $100,000 grant from a foundation backed by investor Ron Conway that offers prizes to groups designing safer guns.
Because of CES’ restrictions, Kiyani was prevented from bringing a fake gun onto the show floor to demonstrate his gun lock. Instead, he had to show a video of the product on his laptop.
Likely mindful that smart-gun tech would draw disapproval among at least some SHOT Show attendees, Kiyani will be presenting there under a different category name. The NSSF has his company’s product listed as a firearm lock.