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Krieg Barrie

Shot down

Technology | ‘Smart gun’ safety options haven’t appealed to manufacturers or buyers

Issue: "Maximum insecurity," Feb. 23, 2013

Gun control advocates are proposing an idea for reducing gun violence that involves gadgetry you might expect to see only on sci-fi TV. Personalized firearms—“smart guns”—can only be fired by specific individuals, or in certain geographic locations. The technology for smart guns isn’t science fiction, and a handful of companies have designed prototypes. 

The Biomac Foundation is working on a smart gun design that uses a gun grip with biometric sensors. The gun would recognize the unique handgrip of up to 11 users, but if a stranger tried to fire it, the trigger would lock.

A simpler system called Magloc, available online as a retrofitting kit, involves a magnetic finger ring that unlocks the trigger. A person wearing the ring can disable the lock so anyone can shoot the gun.

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Irish company TriggerSmart Technologies is working on a system that uses a radio-frequency identification chip embedded in a ring or even in the owner’s hand: The gun could only fire when held within a few inches of the chip. The company’s technology would allow law enforcement to create dead zones—in schools, for instance—where TriggerSmart guns would automatically deactivate. Company co-founder Robert McNamara recently said gun manufacturers are reluctant to license technology like his because they fear lawmakers will begin requiring it for all new weapons.

New Jersey passed a law in 2002 requiring new guns to employ smart recognition once the technology is commercially viable. So far, though, smart guns have mainly triggered buyer skepticism. While a smart gun might prevent a bad guy from using a police officer’s gun against him, law enforcement personnel are wary about using guns equipped with technology that might not work 100 percent of the time.

A smart gun could prevent a teenager from using his dad’s gun in a suicide attempt, but the average teen with access to a parent’s gun will probably know where to find the activation ring, too. And what good is a school dead zone unless every gun in the country contains a TriggerSmart chip?

Paperless chase

UPGRADED: Dr. Klara Gershman uses a laptop to enter information about her patient in Miami Beach, Fla.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
UPGRADED: Dr. Klara Gershman uses a laptop to enter information about her patient in Miami Beach, Fla.

Electronic health records haven’t delivered their promised savings, according to a report by the RAND Corporation. Back in 2005 RAND predicted U.S. doctors and hospitals could save the health sector $81 billion by replacing paper medical records with electronic databases. Instead, healthcare costs have increased $800 billion since then.

In a new report published in Health Affairs, RAND researchers admit the 2005 estimate was overly optimistic, and blame the disappointing outcome on the slow adoption of electronic health records by hospitals, and an overall lack of software compatibility that often prevents doctors from accessing records outside their own hospital or health system. Electronic records have also allowed hospitals to automate their billings: Some reports indicate such hospitals are charging more and making more Medicare claims.

The 2009 economic stimulus bill set aside $27 billion of taxpayer money to encourage the adoption of electronic health records. As of 2011, less than a third of hospitals had made the upgrade. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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