You might think the last thing we need is better ways to blow each other up. And considering the country’s maddening recent history of mass shootings, it’d be hard to argue the point. But in many ways, rollouts of less-lethal firearms, robot dogs on the battlefield, and startups pushing to replace deadly home pistols with less-dangerous pepper spray guns, 2015 was the year of the safer weapon.
On the other hand, cops also started piloting drones strapped with Tasers. Life is a journey.
Here are five innovations that stayed with us.
The Clown Gun
Let’s start on as much of a happy note as we can when we’re talking about machines usually designed to kill people. Like this “clown gun,” the rare firearm accessory built around the principle of protecting human life. So named for the bulbous barrel extension that slows bullets to 20 percent of their typical speeds, the clown gun reduces velocity enough so that instead of penetrating the target’s body, the bullet strikes with non-lethal force. Toronto police considered adopting them after public outcry over a series of questionable suspect shootings, the victims of which were about 35 percent black suspects despite black Canadians making up just nine percent of the city’s population. So much for starting out positive.
Spot, the Robot Dog
This feels like the subject of a dystopian sci-fi movie with a tagline on the poster along the lines of: “Man’s best friend. The enemy’s worst nightmare.” Spot the robotic dog was created by robotics company Boston Dynamics at a portable 160 pounds, with a radio hookup allowing it to be controlled remotely from as far away as 1,600 feet. It didn’t take DARPA long to see the advantages of using a small, easily operated, and most importantly not-human device in combat situations. Send Spot in to scout and the worst that could happen is you need to order a replacement robot.
This year saw North Dakota achieve the dubious honor of becoming the first state to give cops the authority to Taser suspects via drone. The controversial option passed in House Bill 132B actually started out banning weaponized drones and telling cops they had to get a warrant to use them as surveillance but by the time the final draft was ratified it allowed for “less-than-lethal” armed drones. That meant they can have sound cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, and, even Tasers. Democracy in action. Now a desk sergeant can’t hit you with a 50,000 volt shock from a desk miles from the scene of the crime.
3D-Printed Rail Gun
The Navy he has been working on its own railgun technology, but why wait for that to trickle down? This was the logic of a brilliant DIY’er going by the alias NSA_listbot, who decided to build his own electromagnetic pulse rifle using a 3D printer and raiding a local hardware store. The result looks likes like something a discharged Starship Trooper might build one nostalgic weekend after retiring from the bug wars. It’s also capable of firing a rod at speeds up to 559 miles per hour, which is slower than the average bullet but about the cruising speed of an Airbus A380.
This one we might leave in 2015. The Salt gun looks like a normal handgun, but instead of bullets, it fires pellets filled with powdered chemicals to essentially pepper spray your target. Even if you don’t directly hit a person with the pellet, the cloud of chemicals it releases would be big enough to incapacitate. An Indiegogo campaign for the non-lethal weapon raised just under $30,000 in late October and looked to be on its way to the full $70,000 goal.
Then Mike Monteiro got involved.
Monteiro, a San Francisco designer with a Twitter army, was outraged by what he believed to be more profiting off a gun-crazed culture. In an interview with Inverse, Monteiro said he was fed up with mass shootings and upon seeing the gun, directed his followers to help Indiegogo cancel the campaign, which it did.
Salt’s creators said they had alternative investors lined up, but there’s been no word on the gun’s future since Monteiro’s social media siege. Salt has yet to respond to questions about the gun’s status. We’ll update when we hear back.