Firearm Safety: Colorado Student Invents Smart Gun

smartgun1In the course of considering the rash of gun violence and mass shootings that have swept the US in recent years, a great deal of attention has become focused on “smart guns”. Incorporating the latest in biometrics, fingerprinting and wireless connectivity, these weapons are designed to only be usable by their rightful (and presumably, legal) owners. One such concept comes from Colorado – which has a history of gun violence – and from a high school student, no less.

His name is Kai Kloepfer, a 17 year-old a high school student from Boulder who just won the $50,000 Smart Tech for Firearms Challenge for his smart gun prototype. Inspired by the recent school shooting in Connecticut and undeterred by the lack of legislative change in Washington DC, the Smart Tech Foundation believes that ingenuity, technology and the invisible hand of the free market will persevere where the federal government has failed.

smartgun_markAngel investor and gun reform advocate Ron Conway became the main backer of the $1 million Smart Tech prize to spur gun safety solutions earlier this year. As he said to the SF Examiner in January of this year, he hopes people will “use innovation to bring about gun safety. Let’s not rely on Washington”. According to the Smart Tech Foundation, a total of 15 innovators will receive a part of that million dollar prize.

Kloepfer is the first to get the award. His gun design works by creating a user ID and locking in the fingerprint of each user allowed to use the gun. The gun will only unlock with the unique fingerprint of those who have already permission to access the weapon. According to Kloepfer, all user data is kept on the gun and nothing is uploaded anywhere else, so it would be very difficult to hack. This potentially makes it ideal for military use as well.

smartgunKloepfer came up with the idea two years ago when he needed something for his high school science project. The Aurora, Colorado shooting had recently happened just an hour’s drive on his home, and was on everyone’s mind at the time. Kloepfer’s parents helped him in monetary increments to get the parts needed for each improvement. It would eventually cost $3000 for the whole thing to come together, maturing from phase to phase with each science fair.

As he explains the inspiration and development process:

The idea came to me right as I was falling asleep. It was kinda in the back of my mind because of the shooting. I scribbled it down before I went to bed and fell asleep and then in the morning I began my research… At first it was just a concept on paper. Right now it’s a prototype on a plastic model. Its not entirely there but it works.

kai-kloepfer-smart-tech-13Some of the $50,000 has already been used to purchase a 3D printer to create new parts for his prototype. Kloepfer, who will graduate from Fairview High School this year, plans to use the rest of it toward the integration of a fingerprint scanner. Ultimately, he hopes his and other designs like it will make a dent in the problem of gun violence and help to reduce the needless deaths caused by it:

Every 30 minutes in the U.S. a kid dies from a gun. I want my gun to help reduce accidental deaths and injuries, and to prevent tragedies.

His intentions are certainly well-placed. According to the Center for Injury and Research Policy, 1500 kids die from a gun and many more are seriously injured every year. And according to the Smart Tech Challenges Foundations own website, 2 million children live in a home with a firearm that is both loaded and unlocked. So beyond gun violence, gun safety advocates are sure to see the value in developing the technology.

smartgun_lockKloepfer also spoke about his biometric smart gun tech this past week at the TEDx Mile High: CONVERGENCE in Denver, Colorado. Stay tuned, for I plan to post the video of his talk as soon it becomes available! And in the meantime, be sure to check out the Smart Tech Challenge Foundation’s website for more information on the winners of the challenge.

Source: techcrunch.com, sfexaminer.com, smarttechfoundation

3-D Printed Guns: Congress Ready to Extend the Ban

3D_printed_weaponsEarlier this month, mere days before the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, Congress began proposing to extend a ban placed plastic firearms capable of evading metal detectors and X-ray machines. Narrowly beating a midnight deadline on Monday, Dec. 9th, the ban was extended for a period of ten years, though efforts to strengthen the restrictions were narrowly blocked by Congressional Republicans.

This was a bittersweet moment for advocates of gun control, but the implications of this decision go beyond the desire to not see another school shooting take place. With the growth of 3-D printing technology and fears that guns could be created using open-source software and store bought printers, preemptive measures were seen as necessary. Simply shutting down Distributed Defense’s website seemed insufficient given the interest and ease of access.

Cody-Wilson-Defense-Distributed-Wiki-Weapon-3-d-printed-gunBans on plastic and undetectable firearms were first passed during the administration of Ronald Reagan, and have been renewed twice – first in 1998 and again in 2003. But such weapons have become a growing threat and due to 3-D printing, which are becoming better and more affordable. And though public access is still limited to weapons made from ABS plastic, it may be only a matter of time before something more sophisticated becomes available.

However, advocates of gun control emphasize that this extension contains two key defeats. For starters, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer’s desire to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts was blocked. In addition, the fact that the ban was extended for a ten-year period as is means it cannot be revisited and strengthened again in the near future.

3dmetalgun-640x353In this respect, the ban highlights a year of failure of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats to toughen gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. Despite this tragedy and other mass shootings – such as the one that took place at the Washington Naval Yard – and the fact that some 90% support tougher gun laws, it seems that pro-gun lobbyists and the NRA are destined to have their way for the time being.

In the meantime, we can only hope that industrial 3-D printing, which allows for objects to be created out of metal parts, does not become readily available to average citizens. The one saving grace of the 3-D printed gun is the fact that it is entirely composed of plastic, making it an ineffective (if undetectable) weapon. And here’s hoping 2014 sees a lot less violence and a lot more humanity!

Source: cbc.ca, huffingtonpost.com

Bulletproof Classrooms: Solution or Sign of the Times?

school_shootingsWith the recent upsurge in school shootings – 43 in the last three years, resulting in 76 and 64 injuries – its little wonder why various school-based options at are being explored. These range from more guns (arming teachers and administrators) to incorporating special alarms that would allow for high-speed response. But perhaps the most creative (albeit odd) response comes in the form of a bulletproofing a classroom.

Specifically, armored whiteboards and bulletin boards (known as “Safeboards”) are being proposed as a last line of defense against gunmen. Developed by the International Armoring Corporation – a Utah-based company that manufactures lightweight armored passenger vehicles for heads of state, celebrities, and even the Pope – these boards are unobtrusive classroom objects that double as bulletproof barriers.
safeboard1In the event of a shooting, a teacher could manually slide and lock them in front of a door within a few seconds. Another version folds away from the wall to create a classroom safe haven that could fit up to 37 average-sized first graders. The Safeboards are capable of resisting the bullets of high-powered rifles, like those used in a number of school shootings in recent years.

The company began developing the product last year before the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut took place. After a few school officials near IAC’s headquarters heard about how the company manufacture lightweight armor for protective vehicles, they asked if there were any affordable products that could improve safety in the event of a school shooting.

safeboard2Bulletproof doors already exist, but they expensive and are very heavy. This can be problematic since these doors still need to be used by children dozens of times a day. According to IAC’s CEO Mark Burton, the sliding Safeboard, made with the firm’s standard lightweight material, starts at $1,850 and is light enough that it can be open and closed even by children.

Though no purchases have been made yet, the risk management director of the David School District of Utah (home to some 70,000 students), a school architect and a police liaison witnessed a demonstration of the technology. The district has already upgraded its alarms and camera systems, but director Scott Zigich, indicated that additional measures are being weighed:

Just this week [the country] had a shooting at an airport, a shooting at a school, a shooting at a mall. We are very active in trying to increase the safety level of our students and employees due to the frequent nature of violent attacks.

hardwireThe state of Utah and IAC are hardly alone on this issue. Earlier this year, another company in Maryland responded to the need for added security by developing small armored whiteboards that would act more like individual shields. Here, the company behind the design is Hardwire, whose product is already being featured at the Worcester Preparatory School in Berlin, Maryland.

Interestingly enough, these whiteboards use the same light material that is used by company to protect military vehicles from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, many schools have come to see the issue of gun violence in terms of guerrilla warfare, and are responding accordingly. According to Hardwire CEO George Tunis:

[The Whiteboards] basically take handguns out of the equation. We can certainly make them to stop any threat in the world, but what we wanted was something handheld for the teachers.

SchoolShootingsFor some time, a debate has raged around the United States, especially in the wake of Sandy Hook shooting. At its core is the question of what constitutes appropriate defensive measures for schools in a society where guns are easy for almost anyone to obtain. And some schools have considered armed guards or even armed teachers.

However, people like Mark Burton believes guns as a defense weapon often do more harm than good in schools, and considers the Safeboard to be a less disruptive and cost-effective measure that could give a classroom under siege needed time until police arrive. For budget-strapped schools, the decision is a financial issue as well as a safety one.

school_shootings1Over the lifetime of the product, Burton claims a Safeboard would cost as little as $5 a student, and IAC will also offer a financing program. But ultimately, its about finding ways to deal with the issue that doesn’t involve escalation. As Burton explained:

This is whole new territory. It’s kind of a fine line to walk. It is a sensitive issue, but in some cases, I think it could save lives.

And in the end, one has to wonder, are armored classrooms the only recourse to arming teachers and administrators? Is the issue of gun control really so elusive and untouchable that Americans must choose between more armor or more weapons in schools? What does it take to protect our children without treating our classrooms like they are warzones?

Sources: fastcoexist.com, www.wjla.com