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Gun violence didn’t end during the pandemic; we just didn’t hear about it. In 2020, there were over 600 mass shootings in the United States, compared to 417 in 2019. Almost 20,000 Americans were shot and killed in 2020, the most in at over 20 years, and an additional 24,000 people committed suicide with a firearm. 

Even after two major, nationally covered shootings occurred this year in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., no policy change was enacted. In fact, Boulder’s gun ordinances were blocked in court by a state judge less than two weeks before the shooting on the grounds that only the state could pass this sort of law.

While many politicians at the state and federal levels are unable to pass gun reform legislation, there are other things that can be done to defend both human life and the constitutionally protected right to own a gun. The private sector must step up to make guns safer in order to reduce gun violence. 

In today’s polarized political climate around gun culture, little can be done at the federal level to reduce gun violence and encourage the passage of meaningful legislation to reduce the prevalence of guns in American life. Experts have taken steps to attempt to reframe gun violence as a public health issue and have changed their language from “gun control” to “gun violence prevention” in an attempt to take control of the narrative. This rhetorical adjustment moves from the idea of “taking your guns” to one of safe gun purchase and use. If these cultural changes become more mainstream, more can be done to pass legislation to reduce gun violence.

In the meantime, other steps can be taken to mitigate the risks posed by guns. If comprehensive policy can’t be passed, the other option is to turn to the private sector to address this problem. If gun manufacturers made guns safer, it would help to prevent a significant amount of gun violence deaths. Obviously, this would not solve all of the United States’ problems regarding guns, but it would be a start. 

There are technological innovations that could be implemented in guns to make them safer for consumers. One innovation is designing guns that only work for specific people by connecting the guns to RFID tags on watches or rings. Another is using biometric technology by requiring proof of identity to use the gun, such as voice activation, a retinal scan or a fingerprint. The final strategy is using “microstamping” technology so that guns imprint unique marks on the cartridge casings as the rounds are fired. In a similar approach, in May, the Justice Department proposed a rule to require gun-making kits to include a serial code in order to crack down on “ghost guns,” untraceable weapons assembled by individuals in their private residences rather than licensed manufacturers.

These technologies would reduce gun violence by preventing unauthorized users from operating the firearm, reducing suicide and accidental shootings. Biometrics and PINs would also prevent people from using someone else’s gun to commit a shooting. In guns where the casings are left behind, microstamping would allow law enforcement to link the gun to the shooter. While this would not prevent shootings altogether, it would prevent dangerous people from owning guns in the future. In 2007, California passed a law that mandated microstamping for all new handguns, and Washington, D.C., passed a similar law in 2018. 

Like other gun violence prevention measures, it would be difficult to implement these technologies at the national level, and some of them are more feasible than others. But pressuring or incentivizing gun manufacturers to put common-sense technologies in their guns to make them safer and to prevent accidental deaths would help reduce gun violence without having to try to pass legislation.

Even with these technologies, we need common-sense gun reform to prevent guns from getting in the hands of people who would not use them safely. There is bipartisan support for a number of gun safety measures, including preventing mentally ill people from owning guns, closing the gun show loophole and closing the boyfriend loophole. It would be difficult to convince Republican lawmakers to support such measures, especially considering the donations the National Rifle Association makes to many of their campaigns, but it is a worthy attempt to bring the issue back to the national stage. 

The United States needs serious, comprehensive gun legislation if it wants to reduce gun violence and mass shootings. But the current makeup of Congress makes such legislation at the federal level nearly impossible. While gun violence prevention advocates and lawmakers attempt to pass policies, the private sector needs to step up and implement technology that makes guns safer.

Lydia Storella is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at storella@umich.edu.