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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Firearm Safety Expo Features 'Smart Guns'

Chuck Quirmbach
Timothy Oh (right), of Vara Safety, explains a gun safety product called Reach.

Researchers are trying to make guns safer, partly through devices that limit who can fire a weapon. The science and financing still have a ways to go before many gun owners have a so called "smart gun." But a southeastern Wisconsin activist group is optimistic enough about gun innovation that it sponsored a Firearm Safety Expo on Wednesday.

The local activist group Common Ground sponsored a Firearm Safety Expo Wednesday at MATC-South Campus in Oak Creek.

At the event, Common Ground leader Linda Vucetich noted gun deaths and injuries don't just happen when one person shoots another. In many communities, suicides by gun outnumber homicides. Accidental self-shootings — often by children — are another major problem. Vucetich says major gun-makers could be doing more to make sure stolen or found guns can't be fired. 

"While traditional firearm companies are standing idly by, the innovation gap is being filled by entrepreneurs and developers like the ones here today," Vuketich said.

Common Ground welcomed representatives of eight firms that either have safer gun products on the market or in the development stage.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
The Identilock gun lock product (in black) made by Sentinl, Inc.

At one display table, the Detroit-based firm Sentinl showed off Identilock — a gun lock that he says can only be opened by the proper fingerprint. The Identilock is in stores.

At another table, Florida police officer Will Murphy showed off what’s called the Gun Guardian, placed on a mock-up of a grip of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Murphy says the product his start-up makes is a trigger shield that will only unlock for the right fingerprint or security code.

Gun Guardian is only in the late prototype stage. Murphy says he and his partners need financial help to bring the fingerprint-activated version to consumers.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Will Murphy and Rob Harvey speak at the Common Ground expo — a photo of Gun Guardian is behind them.

"For us to get to market with biometrics, there's no way we can afford it. You start taking circuitry, program writing issues, it's way above our budget, what we can do. So, our goal is to get this out here in a mechanical version, earn the trust and confidence of the consumer, show them this product works, use any revenue we may get back into the company, and get it to that next step, biometrics," Murphy told WUWM.

Several gun safety manufacturers said they are looking for more financing. One tactic to win the confidence of investors is to try to get more law enforcement agencies to give the products a try.

There were a few dozen police leaders at the expo. Muskego Police Chief Rick Rens says smart gun technology is improving. He's just not certain if it's right for his officers.

"Because when we need access, we need immediate access to our guns. Whether the technology is there for law enforcement, I'm just not sure about yet," Rens said.

Political leaders were also at the event. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele says safer gun technology is something he'll discuss with newly-elected Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas. Abele says it was not a budget-related talk he could have with the conservative former sheriff, David Clarke.

"We now have a sheriff who's a lot more interested in this. So, this is very much a conversation I'm glad we're having now, and we will do everything we can to use our county purchasing power to make sure when we're buying guns, they're safe and they're smart," Abele promised.

"I think the general public has no idea that these things exist," Reggie Moore said.

Current or potential interest by private gun owners is hard to gauge. Reggie Moore directs the city of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention and is a supporter of smart gun technology.

"I think the general public has no idea that these things exist, or these options exist. Unfortunately, right now, the price point on much of them is prohibitive. So, I think the more they can saturate the market, you know, that price point will go down," Moore said.

Common Ground says it hasn't given up on the idea that the U.S. will reduce the number of guns. But the group says highlighting safer firearms is an attempt to work with current reality.

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