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Before Apple’s success encouraged advertisers to append a lower case “i” onto every noun they could find, there was a similar interest in using the word “smart” as a modifier. The idea was that “Smart” things were controlled by computers in such a way s they were more effective than with just manual controls, as opposed to reality in which many simple devices only gain the feature to crash and require reboot.

The term “smartgun” was one such iteration of this.

The term goes back at least to the 1980’s. Various versions of the concept existed prior to that, however, in novels and in film. But what does it mean, you ask?

The term gets applied to weapons that either have some form of firing mechanism that makes them super-humanly accurate with minimal targeting or that only fire when pointed at a genuine threat.

Generally, the former version involves some sort of fire control computer which does the targeting for the shooter, who then gives the go ahead to actually discharge a round. Up until recently, this was pretty much fiction when it came to personal firearms, though a company has produced a rifle that promises even novice shooters the kind of accuracy produced by expert snipers.

The Trackingpoint rifle

The firearm costs as much as a reasonable Toyota but if you put it’s targeting system to work, the rest should pretty much be foolproof.

The second definition is also in the works as well. There are several companies that have been trying to use various widgets so that guns only fire in the hands of their users. Some use fingerprint recognition while others require the shooter to wear a ring or carry some device to let the gun know that it’s allowed to fire.

The big issue I personally (as well as many others have) is that the effects of a firearm not firing when it is needed most likely would end in tears. Admittedly, so do negligent discharges or guns getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, but I’m not sure I want to find out the hard way that my handgun won’t fire because the batteries went dead.

The auto-targeting marvels coming down the pipe also come with their own sets of concerns, though the one most often bandied about by people alarmed with any functional firearm (“Criminals will get it!”) seems to be overblown, mostly because of the technologies high dollar barrier to entry and the fact that manually targeted firearms suit their purposes just as much and are already widely available.

The advancements in firearms tech do not change that a gun is mostly a tube with a spring on one end. Still, there are some interesting and impressive developments and it’s only a matter of time before they’re affordable.

But today, the only way for most people to have a smartgun is to have a gun and be smart, a thing that no computer will ever entirely replace and that has historically always been a rare commodity.