THURSDAY, Jan. 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The majority of Americans support "smart" -- or childproof -- guns, a new survey finds.
Johns Hopkins researchers said the results debunk claims by gun makers and gun groups that there is no market for smart guns, which can only operate in the hands of an authorized user.
"The results of this study show that there is potentially a large commercial market for smart gun technology," researcher Julia Wolfson said in a Hopkins news release.
"This has been one of the biggest arguments against smart guns, that people just don't want them. This research shows otherwise," she added. Wolfson is a fellow in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School's Center for a Livable Future and a Ph.D. candidate in the department of health policy and management.
The web-based survey, conducted in January 2015, included about 4,000 people across the United States. The respondents were nearly evenly split among gun owners and those who did not own guns.
Fifty-nine percent of all the survey participants said they would be willing to consider a smart gun if they were to buy a new weapon. Among current gun owners, 40 percent said they would be willing to buy a smart gun.
Broken down by political identification, support for smart guns was 71 percent among liberals, 56 percent among moderates and 56 percent among conservatives, according to the researchers.
The findings appear in the Jan. 21 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
A 2013 study funded by gun makers suggested that just 14 percent of Americans would be willing to buy a smart gun, the researchers said.
Smart guns use fingerprint or radio frequency identification to prevent unauthorized people from firing them, the researchers explained. Widespread use of smart guns would reduce the numbers of suicides and stolen or borrowed guns used in crimes and accidental shootings of children by other children, proponents say.
Smart guns are not currently sold in the United States. But President Barack Obama recently issued a directive for federal authorities to speed availability of gun safety technology and to consider the purchase of smart guns.
The technology to create smart guns is already used in other products, including smartphones and cars, the researchers pointed out.
"By simply using technology that already exists and bringing it to the marketplace, the public health benefits could be enormous, allowing us to take a standard injury prevention approach to preventing gun violence," study co-author Dr. Stephen Teret said in the news release. Teret is a professor in the Bloomberg School's department of health policy and management, and founding director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research.
"Countless lives that would otherwise have been lost to suicide, accidental shootings and guns getting into the wrong hands could be saved. Policymakers and manufacturers should re-examine the potential for smart guns to not only produce a profit, but also to lessen the toll of gun deaths in the United States," Teret said.
There were more than 33,600 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2013. Most were suicides (more than 21,000), but there were also more than 11,000 gun-related murders and more than 500 deaths from unintentional shootings, the researchers said.
And more than 84,000 people suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds in 2013 that required hospital or emergency room treatment, the researchers added.
The U.S. National Institute of Justice has more on gun violence.