Photo courtesy of Mark B. Barron
Unlike most entrepreneurs who make millions of dollars inventing pointless apps like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur named Mark B. Barron wants to use smartphones to solve one of America's biggest problems: gun violence.
The 56-year-old inventor has created a new app called Lockdown, which he believes could decrease the country's number of gun-related crimes. The app works with a “clip” containing a GPS chip that a user can attach to his gun. The owner leaves his gun in designated areas and enters a code when he wants to remove his weapon. If someone removes the gun without entering the code, the smart chip sends a notification to the owner's smartphone. The gun owner can then cancel the alert, or forward it to police, family, neighbors, or anyone else he's chosen as an emergency contact on the app.
“We’re giving people the tools to know about it right away, so people can’t say, ‘I didn’t know the number of the police station,’” Barron said.
His vision isn’t based solely on altruism. Barron has invested $50,000 to $100,000 into Lockdown, and values the app at $150,000 to $200,000. He plans to put the app on the market when he determines it can be profitable.
In an ideal scenario, Barron said, congress would pass a law that would require gun makers to include Lockdown’s technology on weapons—legislation that could possibly piss off gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association.
“Let's be honest, any one of these big gun companies could do what we're doing,” Anthony Phills, the lead app designer, said. “But they have different priorities.”
For now, Lockdown is still a prototype, and for the technology to succeed, Barron needs media exposure, along with help from Washington.
“It’d be nice if Piers [Morgan] would say, ‘You can have as many rifles as you want, but the more you have the more responsibility you have to take,’” Barron said.
According to the New York Times, only 34 percent of American households possessed guns in 2012. CNN reports that many of these Americans own more than one gun, which means they might need an app like Lockdown to keep track of their collections. In recent years, many gun owners have become more zealous about their Second Amendment rights and have started stockpiling weapons, but this isn't exactly a new phenomenon. As far back as 2004, an Injury Prevention Journal study found that 20 percent of gun-toting households owned 65 percent of the nation’s firearms.
Gun owners' zeal is part of the reason President Obama’s gun-control legislation failed even after the horrendous shooting in Newtown. Getting lawmakers to back Lockdown’s GPS-tracking technology is an uphill battle for Barron to say the least.
“If I had a brother who worked at a gun manufacturer, this would be done,” Barron said. “They’re the gatekeepers, gun manufacturers—we need an insider.”
Barron displays an air of eccentricity reminiscent of a James Bond character when he makes these statements, but he has a lengthy background in safety-related projects. His company, Public Transportation Safety International Corporation, creates the S-1 GARD Danger Zone Deflector, which Barron describes as “a polyurethane guard that pushes people out of the path of the rear wheels of buses.”
Phills has also used technology for good causes and believes getting lawmakers’ attention can be difficult even if the product is a no-brainer for gun-safety advocates.
“I spent over $300,000 to build a better Amber Alert system for the government, and they still didn’t use it,” he said. “I see this as being the same thing.”
Barron agreed: “Safety’s not sexy,” he said. “Thinking of things and inventing things is not the problem. It’s marketing it.”
He's been careful about his appearances in the media. Marketing pushes will likely come after the next Newtown or Aurora, which, depending on your level of cynicism, is either an unfortunate inevitability or a phenomenon that could be prevented by new gun laws, like the legislation Barron wants passed.
“It adds fuel to awareness,” Barron said of the mass shootings that have sparked discussions about new gun legislation. Unfortunately, new gun laws won’t pass without the support of gun lovers.
“When somebody has a medical problem they go to the doctor, but the government, they don’t reach out to inventors,” Barron said. “All we are is another think tank with a product that’s focused on gun safety.”
Lockdown doesn't have a website yet. For more information about the app, contact the Maven Firm.
Justin Glawe is a freelance journalist based in Peoria, Illinois. He writes about crime there, and recently launched a reporting project that will address issues of child welfare on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation.