San Francisco mayor hopes to lead push to end gun violence with technology

Mayor Ed Lee details his city's efforts to use technology to reduce gun violence, and to encourage the private sector to follow suit.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is calling on cities to join him in a new push to use technology to reduce gun violence and bypass federal gridlock on the issue.

At Wednesday’s U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting in Washington, D.C., Lee detailed how San Francisco is using new technology to cut down on shootings and how it is working to encourage the private sector to do the same.

Most notably, Lee announced that he’ll be issuing a new executive directive ordering his police department to change its guidelines for buying firearms and ammunition so that the city prioritizes doing business with companies committed to using gun safety and ammunition-tracking technologies.

“By leveraging our purchasing power, our city is seeking to encourage the entire industry to adopt the highest levels of responsibility and safety,” Lee said. “We want to send a message to the gun industry that safety is our No. 1 priority.”


Lee said Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has committed to leading a similar effort, and several cities in Florida and on the West Coast are considering doing the same. But he charged all mayors in attendance with considering the issue.

“During a time of congressional inaction on the subject, we, as mayors, have a responsibility to take action,” Lee said.

“Smart gun” technology is one key area where cities can use their buying power to spur development and adoption, according to Margot Hirsch, president of the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation.

Hirsch’s group, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of gun safety technology, said that there are a variety of interesting solutions out there — such as guns that use biometrics to restrict who can fire them — but they lack testing in the field.

“We need cities to commit to piloting and testing these technologies and using procurement to specify that these technologies are piloted by law enforcement,” Hirsch said.


Hirsch added that she hopes to see cities encourage investment in gun safety technology from the public and private sectors to help more of the solutions out there get the funding necessary to hit the market.

“It’s a real Catch-22, chicken and the egg situation,” Hirsch said. “They need money to get them to market, but there’s not a lot of demand, so we need to create the demand to get them funded and demonstrate that demand from police chiefs that these technologies are wanted and needed.”

[Read more: Illinois weighs bill to speed access to police video footage in wake of Laquan McDonald case]

Chelsea Parsons, vice president for guns and crime policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress think tank, agreed that commitment from cities on the issue can help the industry reach a “tipping point” when it comes to adopting the technology. However, she added that there are other innovations that mayors can look at to help reduce gun violence.

In particular, she pointed to the “ShotSpotter” service — which uses a network of sensors to detect where and when shootings occur — as a technology that more cities are looking at these days.


“It can really improve the quality of response by law enforcement in communities plagued by gun violence,” Parsons said.

But Parsons also lamented the “dearth of data” that exists when it comes to people who fail background checks. She called on cities to invest more in upgrading databases of this information and then share it more regularly with local law enforcement agencies, noting that federal grants are out there for those projects.

Yet she noted that gun violence is most often a local issue, even though federal and state lawmakers so often try to address it, and she said that mayors could lead the way in combating it with these technological innovations that have the potential to “break through gridlock.”

Lee wholeheartedly agreed and said he sees these types of technologies “revolutionizing” gun safety in the near future.

“The technology is here,” Lee said. “It’s really just a matter of conviction.

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