It's been a seminal year for gun violence in America. From South Carolina to San Bernadino and too many places in between, it's an issue that's been given a unique and deserved amount of attention, with the momentum of mass shootings feeling overwhelming at times. Nicholas Kristof offered a particularly stunning statistic in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, claiming that since 1968, more Americans have died from gun violence than were killed on the battlefields of every war that the U.S. has ever been involved in.
However, Ron Conway plans to change this—not with protest or political action, but with guns—smarter guns.
Inspired in part by his relationship with former Arizona congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords, a guest at Conway's the day of the Sandy Hook shootings, the Silicon Valley V.C. has pioneered something called the Smart Tech Foundations Challenge. Smart Tech, having received over 200 grant applications at it's inception, is a group of of investors that give money to businesses pushing the envelope on smart gun technologies. Already, 15 different companies have received donations from Smart Tech, a number that figures to grow since innovation is needed now more than ever.
Just what is a smart gun? Well, not surprisingly, the term refers to any firearm technology whose implementation may lead to a decrease in accidental shootings, as well as shootings committed by those who don't own that firearm. So far, Smart Tech has come up with three different models it believes can achieve this goal. These include a radio-frequency identification (RFI) gun that depends on a unique token in order to discharge, a fingerprint gun that scans each owner's unique fingerprints, and a mechanical gun that requires a specific locking code from the owner.
The organization has already issued four separate challenges with $1 million in prize money for the most impressive smart gun innovation. The challenges include topics such as limiting the use of guns to their actual owners, data-driven approaches to gun use, technology for enhanced community safety, and the promotion of brain health.
The concept for this technology is nothing new, but is now finding traction, arguably due to the climate in the U.S. surrounding guns. Even 60 Minutes did a piece on smart gun technology in October, perhaps solidifying the effort as a legitimate solution in the minds of the American public.
In recent interviews, Conway has made it very clear how he feels about this issue, stating that he would like to help find a "Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page innovator for gun safety" who will have "made their fame by inventing around gun safety"—while likening the the issue to what happened in the auto industry, claiming that "we can have the very same impact on gun safety... and through innovation, we intend to do that."
Let's just hope he's right. We might add that it's worth paying attention to any trend that Ron Conway is investing in. This is a guy, after all, who's legendary in Silicon Valley for getting in early on the next big thing. He's managed to grab stakes in many of the hottest startups of the past decade, including Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and Pinterest.
Finally, just so you know, Conway has been plenty interested in more traditional approaches to gun control and violence, as well, including both political activism and philanthropic giving. He's interested in some other causes, too, including health.