Innovation Collaboration Moves Firearm Safety Technology Forward

CORRECTION (Tuesday, May 6, 2014): This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of Smart Tech Challenges Foundation.

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Since launching The Innovation Initiative in San Francisco on March 14, 2013, “a lot has been accomplished,” according to Sandy Hook Promise Co-Founder and Executive Director Tim Makris.

The Innovation Initiative brought together local grassroots organizations and members of the Silicon Valley technology community to move forward on solutions to gun violence. A press release issued at that time explained the initiative is intended to be “an unprecedented effort to combat the causes of gun violence through breakthroughs in research, new technologies and new applications of existing technologies.” The Silicon Valley technology community seemed the best place to begin seeking solutions.

The initiative seeks out the technology-based ideas meant to address the areas of firearms safety, school safety, mental health applications, and big data.

With the launch of the initiative last year, two things happened, Mr Makris said last week.

An investment group was created, and a fund for investing in ideas. There has been a transition of those two pieces of the initiative over the past 12 months, he said, with the creation of a c(3) in California that is separate from Sandy Hook Promise.

The Smart Tech Challenges Foundation is the creation of angel investor Ron Conway and entrepreneurs Jim Pitkow and Don Kendall.

The role of Sandy Hook Promise, Mr Makris explained, is “to promote the initiative.” Sandy Hook Promise does not do fundraising for this effort, but supports and promotes promising technology and ideas.

“What started as a Sandy Hook Promise initiative has moved to a collaboration between Sandy Hook Promise and Smart Tech,” Mr Makris emphasized.

In just one year, the Innovation Initiative has seen companies come forward and investments made to move technology along. Backed by other anonymous Silicon Valley investors, Smart Tech Challenges Foundation issued a call in January 2014 for inventors of firearm safety technology, with a $1 million incentive for the best ideas. The goal of the challenge was to hasten the development of useful technology in creating safer firearms. More than 200 ideas were submitted to the challenge, which ended March 31, Mr Makris said, and a review of those ideas is now under way to determine dispersal of grants.

“[Sandy Hook Promise] very much believes in the benefits of moving technology along,” Mr Makris said, adding that future foundation initiatives will focus on mental wellness issues, school safety, and other big data programs that can help guide medical and law enforcement professionals in determining the best use of resources, for instance.

Biometric authentication of firearms is a growing area of firearms safety, in which an individual’s unique characteristics are imprinted, disallowing the use of the firearm by anyone other than the owner. Biometric authentication is a technology already utilized in the newest iPhone, and by some early smart gun designers.

“When you hear about these kids taking guns to school — more than 20 in the United States just this past January — you wonder what if they only worked by biometrics? It can help prevent violence,” Mr Makris said, reducing the number of gun deaths, including the number of suicides by gun.

“I’m sure there’s a percentage where not all in the household would be imprinted [for a particular firearm],” he said, and lost or stolen firearms with biometric technology would be of no use to anyone other than its owner.

The importance of initiatives to combat mental wellness issues cannot be understated, Mr Makris said.

“There is a vast amount of gun violence because of mental wellness issues,” he said. One of the things on which Sandy Hook Promise focuses is how to identify individuals that may have mental wellness issues. “We want to promote mental wellness as violence prevention,” he said, as well as influence connectivity within the community so that young people learn positive coping skills.

Easier access to guns than people had 20 or 30 years ago contributes to gun violence. “For this organization, it means working to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, and making sure there are policy laws in place to stop people who shouldn’t have a gun from getting one.”

He sees technological advances, such as those sought through the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation initiative for firearms safety, as a means of addressing the issues that prevent gun owners from supporting current biometric options on firearms.

“People who have guns in their homes because they want them for protection, don’t want the gun locked up and inaccessible when they need it. So technology has to address this. [New and safe technology] has to be quick, but individualized,” he said.

Future initiatives will focus on school safety, Mr Makris said, but already, “Tens of thousands of schools are more secure than before 12/14. Nearly every school looked at its security and likely are in a better place than before 12/14.”

It may seem that the steps are small, “But versus 12/13, steps have been taken to save some lives,” he said.

“There are millions and millions of people who have value sets for coping and social skills, and a sense of humanity that allows them to say, ‘I’m not going to buy a gun and hurt somebody,’” Mr Makris pointed out, in reaction to difficult social situations. Many others today do choose violence, though, particularly those who have experienced adverse childhood experiences, he said.

“That is when development is interrupted, and it is a tougher go in society and in other interactions. How can we help those folks, is what we ask ourselves at Sandy Hook Promise,” said Mr Makris. “Those are the tools and programs you’ll hear from us this spring,” he said. 

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