Solar Tech Goes Where Most Tech Isn’t Trusted: Guns

When I’m not writing at CleanTechnica, I write part-time for The Truth About Guns, a popular gun blog. My experience as a firearms instructor and student of emergency management, homeland security, and intelligence not only takes me in that direction, but also leads me to try to move things in a better direction where I can.

Recently, I realized that solar technology has managed to find its way into a place that most gun owners don’t like to see it: on their guns.

People Don’t Trust Computer Technology To Live Inside/On Their Guns

One of the great debates on guns we frequently see is the idea of “smart guns.” A responsible gun owner should only allow trusted adults to be able to operate their guns unsupervised, and we usually achieve that with things like safes and retention holsters. This way, children and thieves can’t just take the gun and go do bad things with it. But, some lawmakers and activists think guns should come with built-in smart technology, so that the ability to fire the gun is truly restricted to the owner and people they trust.

The obvious problem with doing something like installing a fingerprint reader on a gun is well illustrated by this video:

If you watch carefully, you’ll see that the congresswoman struggled briefly to get the phone to take her fingerprint and open. Anyone who has used phone fingerprint readers also knows that they often don’t work at all if your hand is wet, sweaty, or dirty. When the difference between shooting and getting shot can come down to hundredths of a second, little hesitations and malfunctions matter a lot. So most gun owners aren’t willing to buy a gun that requires a fingerprint or some other technology that could fail when it’s needed most, and most law enforcement officers wouldn’t take that risk, either.

Before you scroll down to argue about this in the comments, let’s not move too far afield from what we normally cover here at CleanTechnica. The only reason I shared the above is to show that people generally don’t trust electronics on their guns. Whether readers think that’s a good attitude or not is definitely up for debate like anything, but the fact that people are wary of mixing guns with computers is well known, and that’s the only point you should take away from this section.

Most people are perfectly happy with what’s basically proven 19th-century technology with small improvements, and don’t want to risk malfunction. But, there is one clean technology that has managed to make its way onto many people’s guns, and they’re not only happy to have it there, but get increased reliability from it.

Guns With Little Solar Panels

Many innovations in firearms technology start off in competition shooting, and today’s cleantech story starts there. Competition shooters often use “race guns,” or heavily modified guns that are set up strictly for shooting at competitions. Their flared magazine wells, recoil weights, reduced recoil ammunition (in some classes), strange attachments, and even magnetic holsters are all very impractical for concealed carry or police duty.

One of the things that popped up in the late 1980s was the use of “red dot” sights on pistols. Instead of having to line up the sights, your eye, and the target all perfectly, a red dot sight allows some room for imperfection by letting the dot move around to show where the bullet will hit even if you aren’t looking dead-straight-center through it. This obviously saves a lot of time, which makes for better scores.

Red dot sights had been around for rifles and even BB guns for a while, but never on the semi-automatic pistols common in military, policing, and concealed carry. But, some competition shooters in the late 80s and early 90s started experimenting with putting them on pistols. You couldn’t put them on the slide (the top part that goes back and forth to load the next round) because the motion was too violent and would destroy any scopes you attached. So, they added a huge, unwieldly and heavy mount to the side to attach the scope to the frame. Even then, the shaking of a semi-auto still killed red dot scopes regularly.

But, over time, manufacturers got better and building more rugged optics that could survive riding around on top of everything from AR-15s to semi-auto pistols. Eventually, the Trijicon RMR proved tough enough to mount directly to a pistol’s slide, and now everyone is putting them on their guns.

A Holosun red dot sight mounted to the slide of a pistol. Image provided by Holosun.

Well, almost everyone. There are still many skeptics who wouldn’t want to count on the electronics in a holographic red dot sight if things got really bad. Younger shooters who trust technology more tend to call the older shooters “Fudds,” after Elmer Fudd. But, valid concerns like what you’d do if the dot quit showing up have been solved by “cowitnessing” iron sights (you can look at them through the red dot if they’re high enough).

But, the Fudds still had one valid argument: what do you do if the battery goes bad or runs out during a big emergency? That’s where a company called Holosun came in, offering red dot sights with little solar panels to keep the red dot charged up from not only the sun, but from any light that hits it, like a calculator.

Now, Holosun dots are riding on everything from grandma’s purse gun (red dots work better for failing vision) to the Highway Patrol’s duty pistols in many states.

What We Should Learn From This

Once again, I didn’t write this article to have a debate about gun control, police, or anything else. Those are conversations worth having if done with maturity (a rare thing in such debates), but this isn’t the place for that.

The real important thing to take away from this is that a clean technology, solar power, has become so trusted by even gun people who are skeptical of technology. You’re not going to get a fingerprint reader installed on their gun, but they’ll spend hundreds of dollars (or more) to get a solar panel on their gun to keep it working.

When we get discouraged about clean technologies, and think people can’t possibly be convinced that they’re a good idea, keep things like this in mind. Clean technologies can eventually penetrate even the most stubborn of traditionalist markets once people learn about the advantages.

It’s up to us to share that information.

Featured image: a solar-powered holographic sight on an AR-pattern rifle. Image provided by Holosun.


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