At a press conference on Tuesday, January 5, President Obama unveiled a series of executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence. The actions seek to clarify the definition of a gun seller, improve the system of background checks, give federal agencies more resources to enforce gun safety laws, and increase access to mental health care.

One of the more notable aspects of the executive order, however, is the President’s directive to promote gun safety through technology. Specifically, he has directed the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security to conduct research into “smart gun” technology.

A smart gun is a firearm that is equipped with safety features that allow it to fire only when activated by an authorized user. This is detected through features like fingerprint recognition or radio-frequency identification devices, such as a bracelet that sends a signal to unlock to the gun at a certain proximity.

Although the technology has existed since the 1990s it has not proliferated. Smart gun developers face various hurdles. Indeed, traditional gun makers are hesitant to embrace smart gun technology. Aside from the cost of developing the technology and questions about its reliability, there has been backlash in the past from both consumers and the NRA. The Clinton administration made an agreement with Smith & Wesson in 2000 in which the company accepted certain gun control measures and promised to develop smart gun technology. The NRA boycotted the company, however, and Smith & Wesson ultimately backed out of the agreement. More recently, the NRA has officially stated that while it does not disapprove of the development of guns equipped with such technology, it would oppose laws that would require Americans to purchase smart guns.

The reception of the executive order has been mixed. To be sure, the leading Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, have all vowed to overturn the executive actions if elected. In a statement released following the President’s announcement, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan stated that his executive actions “will no doubt be challenged in the courts.” Despite the fact that some Republicans have been heavily criticizing the President’s executive actions as a flagrant disregard of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, there is a general consensus that the executive actions do not radically expand the gun safety laws that are currently on the books; rather, many experts consider these actions to be simply a clarification of existing gun laws and an expansion of resources granted to enforcing them.

Claire Ziegeler



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