Ruger and American Outdoor Brands (AOB)—parent corporation of Smith & Wesson—have issued stockholder-mandated gun reports on safety. Resolutions passed at their respective annual meetings in 2018 required they be released early this year. (Here's our story on one of the groups spearheading the effort.)
Ruger’s document spans 34 pages, 11 of them filled with detailed references and footnotes, while the American Outdoor Brands version comes in at 26. Both tomes are single-spaced distillates of each manufacturer’s efforts for decades, as well as a look forward at industry developments, including the contentious subject of “smart guns.”
Limits to Technology
“When it comes to ‘smart guns,’ it is an area of great confusion outside of the firearm manufacturing industry,” the AOB report states. “It is subject to the same ‘CSI Effect’ that has been recognized in criminal justice —the idea that science and technology provide easy answers.”
Ruger explains, “Proponents of ‘smart guns’ often ask, ‘If my smart phone can lock for anyone other than me, why can’t a gun? This question reflects a misunderstanding of how a conventional firearm operates and oversimplifies a complex issue. In fact, the private sector and federal government have been struggling for over two decades to determine whether modern technology can be integrated into firearms without sacrificing the reliability and durability that owners demand from them. To that end, the federal government has provided private sector manufacturers over $12 million in funding for UAF [user-authenticated firearm] development] without production of a marketable solution.”
“Despite blanket assertions to the contrary,” Ruger states, “no proven UAF technology exists. Thus far, those devices advanced as ‘smart’ have proven unreliable, easily defeated, or both.”
Gloves and Dirt
The challenges, according to the stockholder-mandated gun reports issued by the manufacturers, start with the simple fact that law enforcement and military often wear gloves. So do civilians in cold weather caught in a self-defense situation—precluding the use of finger or palm prints.
Software lags, dirt, dust and grime are also factors. “No technology is even close to providing activation in less than ideal conditions, the very conditions when a defensive weapon often is most needed,” AOB wrote.” Beyond normal delay in recognition, sweat, dirt, blood, and other foreign matter will prevent even the best biometric technology from functioning.
The alternative isn’t much better. Ruger explains, “’Proximity devices’ are accessories the user must wear which, when in close proximity to the firearm, allow it to operate. Devices can include rings, wrist bands, watches, and other RFID-equipped items. Traditional proximity devices do not authenticate a particular user, as anyone with or near the device immediately becomes ‘authorized.’” And home defenders could lose precious seconds locating that sending device during a nighttime invasion.
The Unsolvable Dilemma
Electronics also have a habit of dying under the physical force a gun is subjected to under recoil. But, there’s a seemingly unsolvable “smart gun” question in the reports.
Ruger explains, “One of the great dichotomies involved with UAF development involves the selected failure mode. UAF developers must decide how the gun should ‘fail’ if the battery dies or the technology otherwise malfunctions. The developer is faced with a difficult decision: when the battery/technology fails, should the gun be operable or not? When outlining the baseline specifications for law enforcement’s use of ‘smart guns,’ the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense concluded that a ‘smart gun’ used for law enforcement purposes should fail in an operable condition. This specification recognizes that a firearm that fails ‘safe’ will leave its owner defenseless if the battery dies or the technology malfunctions, with potentially life-threatening results. In effect, this ‘safe’ failure mode could defeat the purpose of having a firearm at all.”
Both reports include each company’s efforts to improve safety, with details on transfer bars, striker and firing pin blocks, magazine disconnects, industry initiatives, safety brochures in packaging, retailer efforts and more. To download the Ruger report visit here [PDF] and the AOB version can be accessed on this website (select the “Shareholder Requested Report, Feb. 8, 2019”).