New Opinion Poll on 'Smart Guns' Shows Shifting American Attitudes

While the NRA and Republican politicians are firmly against, more Americans aren't.

New research suggests that even politically conservative arms owners are willing to buy a so-called “smart gun” that can recognize fingerprints, among other safety features.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans say that if they were buying a new handgun they’d consider a smart gun or a childproof gun operable only in the hands of the authorized user, a sentiment shared by 56 percent of political conservatives. This is according to research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released today in The American Journal of Public Health.

The numbers show steadily growing support — backed by, among others, President Barack Obama earlier this month and Vice President Joe Biden, in GIF form — for better gun technology, as research funded by gun manufacturers in 2013 found only 14 percent of buyers would make a smart gun their next firearm.

It’s difficult to put these numbers in a broader context since it’s nearly impossible to find good independent studies on guns. The CDC essentially abandoned any gun studies 20 years ago — the NRA accused the agency of promoting gun control in 1996, the same year a Republican congressman yanked $2.6 million out of its budget — and research by the National Institute of Justice dried up soon after.

In 2014, 33,599 people were killed by guns, the most recent year with complete data available. Most of those were suicides (21,000-plus deaths) and homicides made up roughly a third of the victims. Unintentional shootings made up roughly 500 deaths.

Proponents argue smart guns could cut down on suicides and accidental shooting by using fingerprint technology and radio frequency identification to ensure the weapon is only used by the authorized owner. The tech is already reliably used in millions of American’s smartphones.

“The results of this study show that there is potentially a large commercial market for smart gun technology,” Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a Lerner Fellow with the Bloomberg School’s Center for a Livable Future and a PhD candidate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said. “This has been one of the biggest arguments against smart guns, that people just don’t want them. This research shows otherwise.”

The study was done via a nationally representative web-based survey in January 2015, with responses from 3,949 people. The pool was almost 50-50 split between gun owners and people who didn’t own any firearms.

Also in the findings:

  • 59 percent of all responders said they’d consider a childproof gun for their next weapons purchase.
  • Twice as many gun owners would be willing to buy a childproof gun than those who were opposed to such a purchase.
  • 71 percent of political liberals supported smart guns, but a majority of moderates (5 percent) and conservatives (56 percent) agreed.

Unfortunately, the law of supply and demand doesn’t matter when it comes to gun sales. Maryland gun shop owner Andy Raymond tried offering a smart gun option this summer and was threatened with murder and arson. More recently, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to sign a bill approved by his state’s legislature which required dealers carry just one smart gun. Christie, who once told Fox News pundit Sean Hannity that he favored at least “some of the gun-control measures we have in New Jersey” as a matter of protecting law enforcement, has increasingly aligned himself with the Wayne LaPierres of the country since announcing his presidential run.

Meanwhile, Obama’s executive action on guns in early January called for government research and potential investment into the controversial firearms.

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