Could This Technology Be the Key to Preventing Accidental Child Shooting Deaths?

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
July 12 2013 2:17 PM

Could This Technology Be the Key to Preventing Accidental Child Shooting Deaths?

A still from the Fund Safe Guns Indiegogo campaign

Screenshot via Vimeo

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

Earlier this week a Tacoma, Wash., judge dismissed manslaughter charges that had been brought against a man named Eric Vita. Vita had been charged after his girlfriend’s son shot and killed himself in 2012. Vita had left a loaded gun under the front seat of a car while he stepped outside to pump gas.* While admitting that the incident was a tragedy, Vita’s lawyer insisted that “there's not evidence of a crime by my client.” The judge apparently agreed.  


I disagree. People like Vita whose negligence leads to the “accidental” deaths of children ought to be prosecuted for criminal negligence. Doing so would send a strong message that society will not tolerate lax gun safety when children are around, and would possibly serve to prevent other tragedies. Many jurisdictions disagree, which I suppose is to be expected. But I would hope everyone could agree that we need to find some way to guard against these tragedies.

Investing in better gun safety technology is one way to do it, and biometrics are one promising approach. A company called Safe Gun Technology has developed a biometric system that—if it works as well as the company claims—could go a long way toward reducing the number of accidental child shooting deaths in this country. Basically, the device is a fingerprint lock for guns. When you hold a gun that has been equipped with this device, it will read your fingerprints. If you are the gun’s owner, the gun will fire. If you’re not, it won’t. The company says the device can be retrofitted onto almost any gun.

The company is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund a prototype of a gun that is fingerprint-coded to its owner:

We need to raise $50,000 to retrofit a gun and build a market ready prototype of SGTi technology on an assault style rifle.  Any money raised will be solely dedicated to our engineering team who are experts in the field.  The SGTi engineering team will then use the money on the research and development, and refinement of the market ready prototype.

The campaign ends on Sunday, July 14. I think it’s a good idea. I’m sure there are some bugs—there always are—and I’m skeptical that gun biometrics will ever come close to universal adoption. But innovations like these should be the future of gun safety. Give the campaign a look and see if you think it deserves your support.

*Correction, July 12, 2013: This post originally stated that Eric Vita placed his gun on top of his seat.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at



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