For a generation, the concept of a gun that can only be fired by its rightful owner was seen as something of a holy grail for gun safety. Efforts to develop the technology were launched, and the state of New Jersey even went so far to build a law around the concept – long before development efforts bore fruit.
Now, a Colorado-based weapons startup believes it has found a way forward for a nation where many are searching for anything that could help lower the toll of gun violence.
“We have something that’s actually going to, for the first time ever, deliver on that promise of a firearm that only works for you,” said Kai Kloepfer, the founder and CEO of BioFire Technologies.
The company launched its so-called “smart gun” last month, and demonstrated the weapon on ABC News Live “Prime.” The gun can be preordered now for $1,499, and the company plans to deliver to customers next year. A standard 9 mm Glock handgun costs around $500.
The concept behind BioFire’s weapon is straightforward: think smartphone security meets handgun. The weapon will fire normally as long as the user’s fingerprint or face is stored in its memory banks. For anyone else, the company says, the gun is little more than a paperweight.
Making the concept a reality, though, has long-evaded developers.
“Guns are very, very different than cellphones – they’re designed to explode,” said Kloepfer. “We’ve hired the engineers and spent the capital to build all that technology directly into a firearm in a seamless way.”
The product’s release represents the culmination of a decades-long race to develop such a technology, and comes as the nation continues to struggle through a record number of mass shootings, suicides and gun crimes of all sorts.
Overall U.S. firearm deaths jumped 15% in 2020 to 45,000, with 25,000 of those suicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Among American children, gun-related violence is the No. 1 cause of death, surpassing motor vehicles. Guns killed 2,590 children and teens in 2021, 32% of which were suicides.
Kloepfer said BioFire’s goal is to cut down on the deaths and injuries that are caused by people using someone else’s gun without authorization – like the child who takes a parent’s weapon to school, or the person struggling with emotional or mental health problems who knows that someone has a gun in the house. The self-locking gun would not stop someone who legally bought and registered it, Kloepfer said.
“If I could save one kid’s life that would otherwise be lost to firearms, I think we’ve been successful,” said Kloepfer. “If I could save 10,000, that’s even better.”
As a high-schooler in 2012, Kloepfer started working on smart-gun technology after the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, near where he grew up. The shooting killed 12 moviegoers and the gunman had purchased his weapons legally. Still, Kloepfer was eager to design a safe gun, one that would be ready in an emergency but harmless the rest of the time.
Eleven years and over 350 iterations later, the inventor invited ABC News to his company’s lab and gun range.
ABC News military analyst Mick Mulroy put the weapon to the test.
“I thought it worked really well, and I can see the application when it comes to both safety and still having the ability to put the gun in operation quickly,” said Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired CIA paramilitary operator.
Mulroy said that using the smart gun felt similar to using a regular firearm.
“With this, as soon as you pick up in it in a traditional or a normal fighting stance, it’s going to pick up your face and it’s going to unlock the weapon,” said Mulroy. “I thought it fired just like the weapons I’m familiar with.”
BioFire is not the first company to attempt to bring a smart gun to the American firearms market. When leading firearm manufacturer Smith & Wesson agreed to promote smart gun technology in the late 1990s as part of a lawsuit settlement, the National Rifle Association criticized the company, leading to a boycott. The gunmaker never released a smart gun.
In 2002, New Jersey enacted a law that mandated the only guns that could be sold in the state would be smart guns once the technology was available for retail purposes. But the mandate backfired and legislators repealed the law after they became concerned it was hampering development of this kind of technology by manufacturers.
Following a series of high-profile shootings in recent months in California, Colorado, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and New York, Kloepfer says that this time he believes it’s different.
“Whether you own 100 guns, or you’ve never touched one before in your life, I think we can all agree that anything we can be doing to prevent gun deaths in America is something we should be doing,” said Kloepfer.