For decades, every industry except the gun industry has benefited from technological innovation that makes their products safer. The gun industry has resisted all efforts to meet the needs of the 21st century, clinging to the past even when it’s clear that what the past has to offer is not good enough: 21,000 gun suicides each year. 500,000 guns stolen annually. 4.6 million children living in houses with unlocked and loaded guns.
In response to shareholder pressure, two of the biggest gun companies in America, Sturm, Ruger & Co. and American Outdoor Brands (AOBC), the parent company of Smith & Wesson, released reports on Feb. 8 stating that they have no plans to develop smart gun technology, also known as gun safety technology.
The big gun companies are clearly not in tune with the public. According to a 2018 market survey, 53 percent of gun owners would be willing to buy a smart gun if available.
March for Our Lives, the organization founded and run by Parkland students, and other gun safety groups have made it clear that they won’t settle for the status quo. These are the voices that the gun companies need to listen to if they want to reach new markets and align with public interest. As the founder of the leading organization promoting gun safety technology, I know offering firearms with next-generation technology isn’t a matter of the Second Amendment or gun rights. It is all about smart business.
Technology shapes the future of almost every industry. Car companies are developing autonomous cars which are incredibly complex.
Harley-Davidson is introducing a line of electric motorcycles. Who would have thought that their inked, leather-clad customers or weekend warriors would ever want to buy an electric motorcycle?
We use microelectronics in airplanes and spaceships. Incorporating electronics into guns is not rocket science. It certainly is doable and it will make our communities safer. If a gun company doesn’t currently have the in-house technical know-how to make this happen, they could hire people or license it from the innovators who do.
Why the reticence to innovate? It may be because of the boycott back in 2000 when Smith & Wesson introduced a smart gun. In the almost 20 years since then, times have changed, including the business environment, consumer interest and public opinion.
Offering gun safety technology is a smart move in terms of capitalism and business innovation, product line extension, and attracting new customers. Firearm sales are down and adding new products that appeal to a younger, more technologically savvy market segment is good for business. Shareholders want companies to innovate, not get stuck in their stodgy, old ways.
Ruger and Smith & Wesson should care about attracting new, younger customers to gun ownership. The next generation has grown up with ever-evolving technology and expects innovation in the products they purchase.
Companies have to continually innovate and invest in new technologies. Look at the ones that did not: Kodak, Blockbuster, BlackBerry. All are either in the corporate graveyard or just a shell of their former selves.
Refusing to offer products for an increasing number of consumers who want more technologically sophisticated options - especially when those options have the ability to make guns safer and save lives - is not only short-sighted, it’s just bad business.
Margot Hirsch is president of the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation.