I'm a child of the 90's and 2000's. I believe that I am fortunate to have been born during the era of one of the most rapid technological growths of humanity. I grew up surrounded by technology that was always evolving and affecting the world around it.
I am also a huge fan of sci-fi and futurism. If I'm reading fiction, there's a good chance it's something from the likes of Robert Heinlein, Aldous Huxley, or Isaac Asimov. As someone who has grown up in this environment and has also studied manufacturing technology professionally, it is easy to start to day dream about where the future of technology will take our beloved shooting sports.
The following ideas are speculations only and are a result of walking myself through the thought experiment: "What technologies do I believe could be adopted by the market and impact the way we interact with shooting sports in the next 30-50 years?"
Although it wasn't meant to be taken too seriously, I did my best to come up with realistic and plausible answers and consider the consequences and assumptions behind them. Below is what I came up with. Please feel free to tell me why you agree or disagree, make your own speculations, and bookmark this page so we can come back in 50 years and laugh at all the things we thought might happen.
1. Smart Optics Will Become Standard
Tracking Point made headlines several years ago when they unveiled their nearly $20,000 precision rifle scope. Utilizing fighter jet technology, the tracking point scope used information about the cartridge and field conditions to create a firing solution that would predict exactly where a bullet would hit, regardless of conditions such as distance and wind. Even better, by tagging a target, the user could pull the trigger when ready to fire and the rifle would then fire automatically when exactly aligned for the perfect shot. This made it possible for complete novices to make expert shots at extreme distances and targets.
More recently, Sig Sauer announced an electronic smart optic that includes a range finder and ballistic calculator for a much more affordable price.
Innovations such as these will continue to make their way onto firearms in the way that red dot optics are now beginning to. The technology already exists, and in the course of the next few decades will become smaller, lighter, more powerful, and more adapted to shooting use.
With camera sizes already so small, it will not be long until a smart scope can be even smaller than a traditional scope, perhaps the size of today's compact holographic sights. They will need only to be as wide as the desired screen size.
Of course, there will be many other benefits. Zoom will start at a true 1:1 ratio and be nearly infinitely adjustable to telescopic levels, eliminating the need for different sized scopes for different purposes. Many will feature range finders and ballistic calculators to update real time point of impact estimations. Night vision and high definition video recording will be standard. High powered flashlights will be able to be built right in.
Onboard tracking solutions will identify moving targets and automatically adjust. A scope mounted on a rifle will suggest a lead on a running boar, while one on a shotgun will identify lead and swing through points to successfully shoot flying birds on the move.
It is not even out of the question that these optics will possess visual algorithms to identify different species of animals, estimate qualities such as weight and age, and even identify and provide graphical overlays for vital zones as aiming points.
All of the above will increase success rates and humane killing capabilities for those who use them, to say nothing of their use in non hunting sports.
Of course, traditional scopes will not disappear entirely anymore than iron sights have today.
2. Shooting Ranges and Clubs Will be Smarter, Too
I've done a video previously on a high tech shooting range I visited in Davie, Florida. Not only did the range feature a state of the art lead removal and clean air system, it also had a live fire range with digital screens. These were reactive and allowed the user to call up a number of different targets and even shooting games.
Nexus Shooting Range in Davie, Florida
Indoor ranges with digital video screens will be able to simulate environments which are currently impossible. Some hunting simulations with shot feedback already exist. These will be expanded to simulate information on shot distance, wind, temperature, etc. A 100 yard range will be able to simulate targets at different distances by reducing target sizes, and requiring offsets for adjustments. For example, a simulated long range shot will offset input received to force a user to dial for appropriate elevation prior to making a a shot.
Games and competitions will be possible electronically. I even believe that calibrated ranges, verified by representatives from different shooting sports organizations, will allow shooters to qualify for events and classifications right from their local range.
3. Guns Could Be Locked to Their Users (Or Locations)
"Smart" guns that only fire when held by the registered owner have been a topic of discussion for some time. They have long been a fixture of sci fi movies, and several real life firms have already developed working models. This has been quite controversial because the technology is still in its very early stages, yet several states are already trying to use these working models as a platform to require the technology on all guns sold.
Although controversial, I believe there is enough incentive that some company will smooth out the bugs in the technology and come to market with a product that is reliable enough for some sportsmen to adopt it.
Further, technology such as satellite positioning could lock out guns from being fired except in pre approved locations such as shooting ranges and public hunting lands. I believe some governments may even force the adoption of these systems. While this would likely be judged highly unconstitutional in America, it is likely to be adopted in countries such as England and Canada which already have strict requirements on the keeping and transport of firearms.
4. Individuals Will be Able to Make Professional Quality Guns
Already there is a large debate over the concept of "ghost guns" - kits of partially completed firearm parts which do not meet the definition of firearms under federal law but are sold with the intent for the end user to complete the operations necessary and manufacture their own firearm. Currently, it is legal in the United States to buy these parts and have them sent right to your house without the controls of firearms, as well as to build the firearm for personal use without any type of registration or serialization required.
Several states have banned or otherwise attacked the practice, such as New Jersey which recently threatened legal action against companies which sell these parts in the state. Regardless of your take on the issue, these laws are hardly enforceable now and will become even more so as technology continues to advance.
Already, machines exist which are capable of producing firearms in a self contained process. These methods include CNC machining, selective laser sintering, metal injection molding, and certain types of 3D printing.
Although all of these technologies are advanced and associated more with industrial than personal use, they will become more feasible for personal use as n new developments are made.
Already CNC machines capable of completing 80% receivers ( turning an uncontrolled piece of metal into a piece constituting a legal firearm ) are sold by Defense Distributed at a price that is not unattainable for home use.
Tormach sells fully capable CNC milling machines which can be purchased for under $10,000 which can easily fit in a garage and run off of a standard home power supply. These are already capable of making a complete gun from user provided blueprints and even files downloadable from the internet, but do require a moderate degree of background knowledge in machining. I fully believe these barriers will be removed as companies design their controls to be more easily used by the layperson in a home shop environment.
Fully 3D printed plastic guns are already here ( finished with some common items such as steel liners and nails) although they are not capable of withstanding high pressure rounds or high round counts. This will change as the industry develops techniques for printing higher strength materials.
One aerospace company has even "printed" a complete 1911 handgun from titanium through a process known as selective laser sintering (they have a great story about it on their blog here.) Essentially, this involves spreading very small layers of titanium powder which are selectively "welded" together with a laser and built up layer by layer. The process required for this technology is very expensive even for industrial use, but history shows us that highly advanced technologies that start at a massive scale can become adapted to every day use within about 30 years of introduction. Consider, for example, the once room-sized computers we now carry in our pockets and even on our wrists.
Companies that recognize this trend and take steps to dominate the coming opportunities will potentially revolutionize the process of creating and even designing guns. Through a combination of the above manufacturing processes, it may very well be possible to purchase and create a gun "on demand".
Specialty gun stores and shooting clubs may very well be equipped with kiosks which allow a person to buy a gun digitally and have it created and assembled right there - allowing for manufacturing and assembly time of course. These could be staffed with trained firearm technicians supplied by the companies producing the machines or perhaps even by the gunsmith of these establishments. Said technicians will assist in operating the machines, fine fitting of parts, assembly, and trouble shooting.
A large number of guns may indeed be purchased by license and created on site rather than manufactured and shipped to a distributor.
A savvy designer or engineer may even create their own modifications and designs and sell them online through the open market. It would very plausibly become a reality to commission from a remote artist a personalized feature ( such as a fine engraving design ) and have it translated perfectly by the machine at your location.
If I'm to really stretch the limits of educated fantasy, biometric input may allow for automatic personalization. For instance, gripping a biometric sensor array may transmit information about the size and shape of your hand, allowing automatic adjustment of ergonomic features such as Palm swell, backstrap width, trigger reach, and safety lever length.
Although it's fun to speculate, there's really no way to know for sure what's going to happen. The best we can do is take an educated look at the industry and technology as it exists now and try to make predictions. Sometimes these will come true, and sometimes the truly successful technologies are the unexpected innovators that seem to come out of nowhere and change the way things are done. The only way to know will be to wait it out, support the companies that doing research to push the boundaries, and continue to defend our second amendment rights.
What are your thoughts? Feel free to share them below and leave your guesses about the way you think the industry will change. For more reading, check out our blog.