On Friday, four-year-old LodeStar Works unveiled its 9mm smart handgun for shareholders and investors in Boise, Idaho. And a Kansas company, SmartGunz LLC, reports law enforcement agents are beta testing its product, a similar but simpler model.
Both companies hope to have a product commercially available this year.
LodeStar co-founder Gareth Glaser said he was inspired after hearing one too many stories about children shot while playing with an unattended gun. Smart guns could stop such tragedies by using technology to authenticate a user's identity and disable the gun, should anyone else attempt to fire it.
They could also reduce suicides, render lost or stolen guns useless, and offer safety for police officers and jail guards who fear gun grabs.
However, attempts to develop smart guns have been hindered. Smith & Wesson was hit with a boycott, a German company's product was hacked, and a New Jersey law aimed at promoting smart guns has raised the wrath of defenders of the Second Amendment.
The LodeStar gun, aimed at first-time buyers, would retail for $895.
Glaser acknowledged there will be additional challenges to large-scale manufacturing, but expressed confidence that after years of trial and error, the technology is advanced enough and the microelectronics inside the gun are well-protected.
"We finally feel like we're at the point where ... let's go public," Glaser exclaimed. "We're there."
Most early smart gun prototypes used either fingerprint unlocking or radio frequency identification technology that enables the gun to fire only when a chip in the gun communicates with another chip worn by the user in a ring or bracelet.
LodeStar integrated both a fingerprint reader and a near-field communication chip activated by a phone app, plus a PIN pad. The gun can be authorized for more than one user. The fingerprint reader unlocks the gun in microseconds, but since it may not work when wet or in other adverse conditions, the PIN pad is there as a backup.
Skeptics have argued that smart guns are too risky for a person trying to protect a home or family during a crisis, or for police in the field.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry trade association, says it does not oppose smart guns if the government doesn't mandate their sale.
"If I had a nickel for every time in my career I heard somebody say they're about to bring us a so-called smart gun on the market, I'd probably be retired now," said Lawrence Keane, senior Vice President of the NSSF.
Guns coming to market could trigger a 2019 New Jersey law requiring all gun shops in the state to offer smart guns after they become available. The 2019 law replaced a 2002 law that would have banned the sale of any handgun, excluding smart guns.