Omer Kiyani’s hands still shake when he remembers the day that changed the course of his life.
He was 16 years old, riding in a car with a group of friends, when someone started firing a gun outside the car. Kiyani — who never identified the shooter and has trouble remembering the incident — was shot in the mouth. After several surgeries, his physical problems faded away, but the shooting left an indelible impression on his psyche.
Yes, he believes in making guns safer, but he’s not your typical safety advocate. He’s a gun owner himself, and he wants to control firearms in the most practical of ways. That’s why he founded Sentinl, a Detroit-based startup that’s designing a biometric gun lock called Identilock. Attaching to a gun’s trigger, it unlocks only when the owner applies a fingerprint. Now that he’s a father, Kiyani says, he’s even more motivated to keep guns out of the wrong hands and prevent his kids from having to go through the trauma he experienced. “I understand what can happen when you’re on the wrong side of a firearm,” he explains.
Gun control has been a contentious issue for decades, but these days, things are about as divisive as they can get. As a recent Pew Research survey shows, the American public is almost completely split on the issue, with 50 percent of Americans saying gun control is more important than gun rights, and 48 percent saying the opposite. The debate is playing out in political arenas around the country. Just weeks after former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $50 million to gun control initiatives, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed the so-called “guns everywhere” law, which allows Georgia residents to carry guns in churches, schools, and even parts of airports.
Introducing any type of innovation into an industry so ripe with controversy and partisan politics has traditionally been a nearly insurmountable task. A company called Armatix — one of the brightest lights in the gun safety arena — recently developed a smart gun that authorizes the user by connecting to a radio frequency-enabled stopwatch, but as The New York Times points out, the company has found it nearly impossible to overcome gun rights lobbyists, who say technology like that could cause the gun to malfunction.
Nonetheless, Kiyani believes even gun rights activists will be more amenable to the Identilock, and he’s not entirely crazy for thinking so.
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