Friday, Jan. 25, 2019 | 2 a.m.
At a small booth tucked away at the massive annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas, attendees could find an example of what could happen if the gun industry devoted the same effort to making its products safer that it applies to making them more powerful, accurate and lethal.
The booth was for the Identilock, a gun lock that uses fingerprint-recognition technology to allow gun owners to instantly access their weapons while also controlling who can and can’t use them.
The product’s inventor, Omer Kiyani, is an engineer whose past work includes helping design automotive airbag systems. He says he developed the Identilock with a goal of reducing firearms-related deaths and suicides among children.
“I’m a gun owner and an NRA member in addition to being an engineer, but most importantly, I’m a parent,” he says.
Through his relationships with other gun owners, Kiyani was aware that many refused to use traditional gun locks and safes, under the rationale that they didn’t want to be fumbling with a key or trying to remember a lock combination during an emergency.
His high-tech lock can be opened with the touch of a finger — actually the touch of up to eight of a user’s fingertips. It can also be programmed to recognize the fingerprints of up to three different users.
The product worked as advertised during demonstrations, opening when touched by Kiyani and his company’s chief marketing officer but staying locked when touched by visitors.
Kiyani said the Identilock was designed with many of the same principles he applied as an airbag engineer. It had to work instantly, reliably and safely, and needed built-in redundancy — in this case a traditional key lock that can be used to open it if the fingerprint system were to fail.
And while other types of biotechnological safety systems have generated privacy concerns from gun owners, Kiyani designed his product not to store fingerprints but rather to work off of code generated by an algorithm. It’s also not an internet-connected product.
Will it replace traditional gun locks in the market? That’s unclear. The product costs $200, many times more than a standard keyed lock.
In addition, the relatively limited presence of exhibitors like Kiyani at the SHOT Show raises the question of how much demand exists among consumers for such safety products. Of the 1,600-plus exhibitors at the event, the official show program listed 28 that were displaying locks. Another example: A major gun manufacturer’s 232-page catalog listed only two locks, both conventional keyed models.
Meanwhile, the show offered booth after booth of such accessories as laser sighting systems, silencers, high-capacity magazines, long-range scopes and more — and this in a community where 58 people died and more than 500 were injured less than two years ago by a man using some of those products.
In that environment, the Identilock booth and others like it were a welcome sight for a nation that is awash in guns and gun violence. Others included Henderson-based Alpha Guardian, a provider of gun vaults and safes, and SecuRam, a provider of gun-safe locks that incorporate fingerprint-recognition technology and can be controlled by a smartphone.
Another bright spot was the display for Project ChildSafe, which has distributed more than 38 million gun locks to firearms owners since 1999 through law enforcement departments nationwide, including Metro Police.
Kiyani, in a conversation with the Sun, made it clear he didn’t want to get into the divisive politics of gun violence in the U.S. He said he approached his work merely as “an engineering problem to be solved.”
But here’s to him and other conscientious entrepreneurs who are addressing gun safety.
The money in the gun industry is clearly in areas other than theirs, as evidenced by the giant displays by major gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association at the SHOT Show. But unlike those far bigger players, the providers who specialize in safety equipment are doing the right thing.