Unsafe at Any Caliber: A Call for “Smart Guns” in America

By Scott M. Stringer and Hakeem Jeffries

From left: Rabbi David Adelson, Rev. David Brawley, Metro IAF, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries & NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer

From Charleston to San Bernardino, from the Bronx to Staten Island, guns have been at the center of tragedy after tragedy in every corner of this city and this nation.

Last week, President Obama took matters into his own hands, issuing executive orders to expand the use of background checks, research the root causes of gun violence, and push federal agencies to explore the use of “smart gun” technology.

The President did his part, and now it is time for New York City to follow suit.

That’s why we’ve come together to call on the Mayor to use the City’s purchasing power to push gun manufacturers to create smart guns that meet the needs of law enforcement.

Smart guns use fingerprint or radio frequency technology — just like smart phones and credit cards — to ensure that only authorized users can fire weapons. These technologies can render a stolen gun in the hands of a criminal little more than a paperweight and prevent accidental discharges that have killed thousands of Americans in recent years, including over 1,800 kids.

And yet, faced with the bullying tactics of an irrational gun lobby that sees a threat in any new regulation, gun manufacturers have refused to market these weapons in the United States. Furthermore, the gun industry has yet to even design a smart gun specifically for police use.

That has to change, and it starts by marshalling the power of government procurement.

For generations, coalitions of citizens and governments have used the power of the purse to press for fundamental change and to create markets for new products.

In the mid-20th century, a series of initiatives targeted the apartheid government of South Africa. The NAACP pressured the World Bank to cease loans to the regime, advocates called for boycotts of companies doing business in South Africa, and institutional investors, including the New York City Pension Funds, threatened to divest from South African businesses. Together, these and other actions raised the cost of doing business in South Africa and contributed to the demise of apartheid in 1994.

In that same spirit, it is time to focus the combined procurement power of federal, state, and local governments on reforming the gun industry.

Government purchases 40 percent of guns sold in America. As the largest municipal purchaser of weapons in the nation, New York City has an unparalleled opportunity to change the landscape on gun safety by creating a new market for smart guns that will help police and civilians in big cities and small towns across the country.

Promoting smart guns isn’t about political ideology: it’s about saving lives.

Last year, NYPD Officer Randolph Holder was killed with a weapon that had been stolen from a law enforcement officer in South Carolina. In 2013, Officer David Smith was murdered with his own weapon in Johnson City, N.Y. And just this month, a man inspired by ISIS propaganda shot a police officer in Philadelphia using a gun that was stolen from a police officer’s home.

If any of those weapons had been smart guns, those shootings may never have happened.

Someone should ask the National Rifle Association how many more police officers have to be shot and how many more children have to die before they embrace these new technologies and work to get them into the marketplace, rather than throwing up roadblocks at every turn.

Fifty years ago, a 31-year-old attorney named Ralph Nader published “Unsafe at Any Speed,” which highlighted how cars were full of design flaws that directly contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans annually.

The revelations spurred the nation into action, with consumer demand and government regulation leading to innovations like seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes.

It’s time to demand the same response from the gun industry. New York City can and should lead the nation in pressing for common sense technology in the firearms industry. By using the power of procurement, we can create a market for smart guns that will help to protect future generations from the devastating toll inflicted by gun violence.

Scott M. Stringer is the Comptroller of the City of New York. Hakeem Jeffries is a member of Congress who represents New York’s 8th Congressional District.

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