Gun violence doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Whether the shooting is racially charged, gang-related, domestic terrorism, self-defense, or self-inflicted, guns, in the wrong hands, are the harbingers of tragedy. The fight over firearms is a confusing one (there are people who profit from this confusion, naturally), and includes all sorts of nuance. Alas, the tactic of “letting the conversation cycle without doing much of anything” hasn’t proven productive, either. What we need, as a nation, are thought leaders eager to come to the table with solutions.
Kai Kloepfer — who UPROXX interviewed in 2015 when he developed a concept for a “smart gun” — is just such a problem solver. As a high school student, he dreamt up a gun that utilized fingerprint recognition, much like modern iterations of the iPhone. When the gun found the wrong hands, it would be rendered completely useless. Accidental shootings would plummet.
Since the original video went viral, Kloepfer has started college at MIT while continuing work on the “smart gun.” We decided to check in with him to see how much he’s progressed, hear about his tech company Biofire, and discuss the future of “safe” firearms.
I’ve been around guns my whole life because I’m from Texas. But, what intrigues me the most about yours is the idea that guns are more or less personalized. There’s only one person that can use a gun a specific gun.
It’s like your iPhone. So you can add a trusted friend a spouse anything like that to it as well.
The last time you spoke to UPROXX, you said that your goal was to finish your live firearm prototype in 2015 and graduate from high school. The graduating thing probably was a cinch. How has it been with your firearm prototype?
I definitely did not finish the prototype in 2015. It took a little bit longer than expected, but it’s all working out. Basically, what happened there was after high school I took a year off to work on my company. And, during 2015/2016 the main thing we were doing was trying to push forward to that Live Fire prototype. So, when you first interviewed me earlier on I had a plastic model of a smart gun and all the technology and stuff incorporated into a 3D printed piece of plastic, which provided the idea but was not a product, obviously.
The next step there was taking that technology and morphing it into an actual firearm, instead, in a way that worked. I finished that pretty much near the end of my gap year, right before I went to MIT. So… that would’ve been mid-2016, I think, and we launched that with a big article in the Wall Street Journal and stuff like that when we had the technology incorporated into an actual firearm. It worked, but there’s definitely quite a bit of work to be done over the next year or so, maybe a year and a half to work out building up Biofire’s team, building up Biofire as a company, and really taking this product to market.
I was on your website as well. It mentioned the smart guns’ specific mandates and law like that. How would you say that they should differ from the gun laws that people are trying to get put in place or the ones that we have right now?
The way that we view gun laws at Biofire is that we’re neutral in terms of general sort of gun laws. And, I think that overall, our goal is to protect that balance and there’s a logical way to do that. I think there are some gun laws that make sense and there are some that don’t. But basically, those should affect all firearms the same way, whether they’re smart guns or not. What we’re opposed to is laws that specifically target just smart guns.
For example, there’s a law in New Jersey that 18 months after a smart gun is available all firearms sold in the state of New Jersey have to be smart guns. We’re opposed to things like that because I don’t think it makes any sense to mandate a single product across an entire market instead of offering a bunch of different options to consumers. What we’re trying to do is really create an option that could be better for some kinds of gun owners. But, it’s not a replacement for every gun out there. So, we’re opposed to laws that specifically target smart guns right now just because I think we need to get a better sense of what even a smart gun is and who uses them and stuff like that long before legislation makes any sense.
So if I were to sell smart guns what kind of consumer would I be looking at?
There are a couple of different ways to look at that. The approach that we’re taking is we’re building a smart gun primarily for people who use firearms indoors and at the shooting range, so these are maybe not your biggest sort of most enthusiastic gun owners, but more people who own a firearm or two for self-defense, to protect themselves and family. And, we’re focusing on those users because that’s where we see a lot of accidents happening, and that’s where we see potentially the most opportunity for innovation in the short run.
In the long run, smart guns — and this wouldn’t necessarily be the same smart gun, but smart guns in general — have application in a lot of different areas. Both with what I just talked about but also with law enforcement, military, private security, prison officers, air marshals, sort of that whole group of users. It’s probably a different product, but there are a lot of issues with those kinds of professional customers where they’re worried about officer take away — people getting firearms away from law enforcement officers. So, we want to make sure that that’s a potential area, as well. Which one you pursue first and how you go about it [is a matter of] choosing to do the thing that makes the most sense.