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Thoughts & prayers don’t stop mass shooters. Technology might.

Nov 10, 20176 mins
Internet of ThingsTechnology Industry

Can technology help reduce mass shootings?

classroom with soft focus blurred
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s heartbreaking. Gun violence kills 93 Americans every day while politicians send their thoughts and prayers. 2017 has seen two of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.

How can technology help reduce mass shootings? How can shooters be authenticated before they can fire? How can the police be alerted when a large number of firearms are present at an unusual location? Can an excessive number of shots fired be prevented?


Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. And approximately one in three gunmen is American according to a study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama. Firearms are an $11 billion per year industry with over 300 million existing guns in circulation. About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one. A recent survey reports that the US has the highest rate of murder by firearms in the developed world. Mass shootings cost Americans over $229 billion per year.

The number of killings increases when assault rifles with high-capacity magazines are used as the allow dozens of rounds to be fired without reloading. Adam Lanza used such a weapon in killing 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012. Three of the worst shootings in modern US history killed over a 130 people at an Orlando nightclub, a Las Vegas show and a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. “There are more people being shot in a shorter amount of time – with more bullets in them,” explained Harvard School of Public Health’s David Hemenway. The image at the top of this article is a screenshot from an interactive map and timeline from Esri, which shows mass shootings in 2017 in the US.

Technical challenges

Here are the issues with gun violence that technology can help with:

Authentication: how do you ensure that only the authorized owner of a firearm uses it – and it isn’t a child, or someone who stole it. Geo-location: Is the gun being used in a proper location. A firearm in a location that it isn’t supposed to be in should generate an alert.

Gun usage: Are there many firearms together at the same time at a location should also set of an alert. How many times has the gun been shot in a period? Could excessive use of bullets such as in a mass shooting be used to block the firearm temporarily?

Let’s look at some of the groups working on this and solutions already available.


BioFire Technologies using a fingerprint sensor embedded in the gun’s handle to authenticate the shooter. Each smart gun owner can register multiple users and control who can use the firearm.

iGun Technology uses a ring with a special system that triggers power to the iGun system as the ring comes close to the owner’s ring-finger placement on the firearm’s stock. When the iGun senses that the ring is near enough, it compares a unique code from the ring to the gun. An electric current from the battery bank actuates a mechanism to unblock the trigger If the code matches.

Safe Gun Technology uses a patented biometric firearm control based on a fingerprint reader to authenticate users before firing the weapon. The scanner is located along the natural grip line, so gun owners handle the gun as they would normally. The system can be retrofitted into legacy firearms.

TriggerSmart uses an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) control to ensure that only the authorized user can fire the gun. The system creates safe zones in areas such as schools with sensors that detect smart guns and remotely disable them if they’re not with an authorized user.


ArcGIS GeoEvent Server  tracks dynamic assets with sensors that are on the move and provides real-time situational awareness. It’s widely used with applications involving vehicles, aircraft and equipment – but could also be used to track firearms. Alerts could be potentially be sent automatically to the police and first responders when firearm is detected a potentially dangerous area (such as a school or hotel), or if there is a high density of guns in an area. 

ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors placed in cities and facilities to identify specific noises and then triangulate the location if they are gunshots. Once, experts validate they are really gunshots (usually within a minute of a gun being fired) alerts are sent to law enforcement and first responders

Gun usage

Sensors embedded in guns could report their location, user’s identity and the number of shots fired. This would enable police to better prevent and respond to mass shootings.

Consider the recent Las Vegas mass shooting tragedy. “On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas with 23 fire-arms leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured”. How could sensors, IoT and analytics have helped in this situation. These solutions do not currently exist, but the technical building blocks used in other IoT applications could be applied to achieve this. Some ideas:

  1. A person procuring and authenticating himself to use 23 firearms could have generated an alert.
  2. Authorities could be alerted when such a high concentration of firepower is identified in a civilian location.
  3. When hundreds of shots are being fired in a short interval of time, controls in the gun could prevent them from being used.

Groups working on reducing gun violence (who could all use your support)

Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon Watts a stay-at-home mom founded in response to the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It’s now a leading force for gun violence prevention, with chapters in all 50 states working to change the game and end the epidemic of gun violence.

Every Town For Gun Safety is an nonprofit which advocates for gun control and against gun violence. It combines ‘Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ and ‘Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’. You can see the status of Gun Control Laws in your state with their online dashboard.

Smart Tech Challenges Foundation funds innovators creating smart guns and firearm safety technologies. Its goal is to identify technology solutions that improve gun safety and provide consumers the opportunity to purchase safer, more secure firearms. The Foundation supports the Second Amendment individual right to keep and bear arms. It also believes that the market, not government, should drive innovation and consumer choice.

BlockSafe Foundation is developing a decentralized smartgun network infrastructure that is anonymous and secure. It uses use ‘triggers’ which are a machine to machine token for every activity happening in the network. It lets smartgun engineers save time and money by focusing on the hardware side of development while staying anonymous. The goal is to develop solutions to locate stolen firearms and prevent malignant gun usage.

Thoughts & prayers

Politicians vote against banning fireams commonly used by mass shooters, but do send their thoughts and prayers to victims. The proverb says, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Perhaps technologists can create a “way” to reduce mass shootings while politicians find the “will” to do something.


Deepak Puri is an IoT expert and the cofounder of DemLabs, a SF-based non-profit hub for technology innovation in support of democracy. Formerly he held executive positions at Oracle, Netscape and VMware.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Deepak Puri and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications Inc. or its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.