For more than two decades, the federal government and the private sector have grappled with a basic question of firearm engineering: Can modern technology make guns safer—or “smarter”—without sacrificing the reliability, durability and accuracy that owners expect from their firearms?
In January 2016, as part of the administration’s ongoing efforts to combat gun violence, President Obama directed the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense (DOD) to answer that question. Three months later, in April 2016, the three agencies submitted a report to the president outlining a multi-pronged strategy to expand and encourage the development of advanced gun safety technology. Today, the Administration is taking a significant step forward to implement that strategy: by releasing a final version of “baseline specifications” that outlines, for the first time, a detailed description of the minimum technical requirements that law enforcement agencies expect from smart gun technology.
The baseline specifications were drafted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) – DOJ’s research, development and evaluation agency – in partnership with a team of firearms experts at DOJ and DHS. Throughout the development process, NIJ sought input from a wide range of stakeholders, including federal, state and local law enforcement, firearms manufacturers and technology experts. Among other steps, in July 2016, NIJ published a draft version of the specifications in the Federal Register and invited feedback during a 60-day public comment period. In addition, in August 2016, NIJ hosted a two-day conference in Washington, D.C., with representatives from law enforcement agencies to discuss smart gun technology and review the draft document.
As the April 2016 report to the president made clear, this project was designed to spur the growth of enhanced gun safety technology—and not to mandate that any particular individual or law enforcement agency adopt the technology once developed. These voluntary specifications serve several purposes: they provide clear guidance to potential manufacturers about what government purchasers require in their firearms; they serve as a standard against which existing technology can be measured, making it possible to identify what research and development gaps remains; and they allow federal, state and local governments to demonstrate that demand for smart guns may exist—if certain operational requirements are met. By engaging law enforcement experts in this process, NIJ has produced a final document that both reflects the exacting demands of law enforcement officers and advances the goal of expediting the real-world deployment of smart gun technology.