As we fight over the future of guns, the 2nd amendment, and safety — you can feel the debate becoming polarized. But it didn’t use to be that way. In the not very distant past, the NRA had a strong public stance on sensible gun ownership. But today, the right to buy, own and carry a firearm has become inexorably linked to individual rights and freedom.
We need new players in the conversation and new thinking about the purpose and results of owning a gun.
Cue Captain Kirk — “Set Phasers on Stun!” Ok, I’m using a science fiction icon, but why did Gene Roddenberry replace old-fashioned guns with new, high tech weapons? Because what we all know is that most people carrying a sidearm are doing so for self-protection. If they’re attacked, or robbed, or threatened, they want to stop the attacker and call law enforcement. In combat, soldiers set out to kill their enemy. But in day to day civilian life, citizens, police officers, security guards, anyone with a gun wants to stop an attack, not kill the perpetrator.
Calling Silicon Valley
The current state of the firearms industry is terrible. A string of bankruptcies from companies like Colt and Remmington is clear evidence that the world of creating, manufacturing, and selling guns hasn’t kept pace with technology. In December, James Debney, chief executive officer of American Outdoor formerly known as Smith & Wesson, said “fear-based” buying of firearms had stopped. The reason the AR-15 is promoted and sold is that it’s selling old technology with fearsome advertisements and Rambo-style marketing. And, it’s not working.
So what about the current state of so-called ‘non-lethal’ firearms? Just one company dominates the sector — Taser International, a shockingly unsexy battery powered shock-delivering sidearm.
Now, as you might expect there are big players in the non-lethal market. Among them The Raytheon Company, BAE Systems Plc, The Boeing Company, TASER International Inc, and General Dynamics Corporation. But these are military contractors woking on Directed Energy Weapons, Conducted Energy Weapons, Gases and Sprays.
Exploring Consumer Demand
But let’s look at what consumers want, and what they currently can’t buy. For most gun owners, the purpose isn’t lethality, it’s safety. They want to be able to protect their family. They want to be able to protect themselves. They want to stop an attack or a crime — and they want to be able to call law enforcement and neutralize the threat. Teachers don’t want to kill students. Store owners don’t want to kill robbers. Subway riders don’t want to kill gang members. And, perhaps most importantly, people who have a gun in their home didn’t purchase it to have it be played with by a child, or for a family member dealing with depression to turn it on themselves. A non-lethal handgun wouldn’t stop gun violence, but it would start to turn the number of accessible firearms from lethal to non-lethal and reduce accidental deaths, suicides, and the use of lethal force to stop attacks.
Now, to be clear, it wouldn’t stop an attacker set to get a lethal firearm and attack school, or a movie theatre, or a church, or a concern. But it would over time decrease the number of lethal weapons easily accessible by criminals, and others who seek to commit crimes and do harm.
So, imagine for a moment a new hight tech gun. A ‘phaser’ with the ability to temporarily incompasiate an attacker. It could have a recurring revenue model, so the manufacturer won’t have to sell more guns or ammunition to remain in business. You could have re-chargeable cartridges that need to be replaced. Like a color printer with ink cartridges.
But one thing is certain; they’d have to be significantly more effective than the Taser units now, that don’t provide an equal sense of safety as they fire their dual prods and their electric wires to deploy a charge.
So here’s my question for the tech industry. Venture Capitalists, are you taking pitches from non-lethal arms inventors? Incubator programs, are you letting non-lethal arms inventors into your co-working space? Entrepreneurs and investors — are you thinking about ways to address what is clearly a broad-based consumer need for self-protection with a high-tech alternative to deadly force?
What we need to address the issue of guns isn’t more divisive debate. We need new thinking, and new technology that rises above the 2nd amendment and puts sensible, non-lethal self-protections in the hands of law-abiding citizens.
I’m not a gun owner, but I might own a phaser — if I could be assured it was only set to stun.