The Wall Street Journal: Why no one wants to back the smart gun of the future

It was supposed to be the dawn of a new era of “smart guns.”

Spurred by the deaths of 20 young children in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, Silicon Valley set out to make safer, technologically advanced weapons that could only be fired by their owners. Venture-capital luminary Ron Conway, known for his early investments in Google GOOGL, -0.12%   and PayPal PYPL, -0.25%  , led the charge, raising millions for grants aimed at jump-starting the smart-gun industry.

Five years later, the smart gun has stalled in Silicon Valley. No smart gun has been brought to the market and most of the handful of startups are struggling. The Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, founded by Conway to give grants, brought national attention to the issue, but is now having trouble raising money.

The Florida high-school shooting that left 17 people dead in February has led to a renewed interest among activists and politicians to find ways to cut gun violence. Smart-gun evangelists hope to capitalize on the movement.

‘The gun industry is not fond of [the smart gun] because it’s change, and Silicon Valley isn’t fond of it because it’s guns.’

Jonathan Mossberg, former executive at shotgun maker O.F. Mossberg & Sons

For decades, firearms companies have refused to sell smart guns because of glitches in some early models, as well as a backlash from conservative gun-rights activists, who fear the technology will prompt state legislatures to mandate it broadly. The activists say their fears were confirmed by a 2002 New Jersey law requiring all handguns for sale in the state to have smart-gun technology once it became available. Smith & Wesson’s parent company said last month it was still wary of making smart guns.

In Silicon Valley, a place that revels in its role as a disrupter and innovator, the smart gun was stymied in part by liberal funders reluctant to put money behind any type of firearm. Potential investors also shied away after stores pulled a smart gun in response to death threats and calls for boycotts—and because they viewed betting on hardware companies as too risky without a big-name entrepreneur.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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