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Student Develops Gun Unlocked by Fingerprint


A gunman killed two members of a television news crew in the United States earlier this week. Their TV station broadcast the shooting “live,” in real time. The shooting shocked many Americans and people around the world.

The United States has the highest rate of civilian firearm ownership in the world. A recent study rated the U.S. among the top countries in public mass shooters per person. A mass shooting is an attack in which four or more people were killed or injured.

One U.S. teenager wants to help prevent such attacks. Kai Kloepfer lives in Boulder, Colorado.

It was three years ago, when a gunman opened fire in a crowded theater in nearby Aurora, Colorado.

The gunman killed 12 people and injured 70 others.

Kai Kloepfer has a talent for technology. He has been teaching himself engineering skills since he was a child. After the attack in Aurora, he decided to use his skills to help prevent mass shootings.

"I kind of set out to improve the safety of firearms,” he said.

A safer gun

The young man’s goal was to make a gun that would not work in the hands of a killer. But he knew it would be impossible for him to stop dangerous people from buying guns.

So he changed direction. He decided to create a gun designed to preventing accidental shootings.

“Every 30 minutes in the United States, a child dies or is injured by a firearm," Kloepfer said. "Add up a child every 30 minutes over even, say a week, and you have an astronomically larger number of people than has ever been injured in any type of mass shooting in the United States.”

A more recent study found that guns are to blame for killing or injuring at least 10,000 children across the U.S. every year. That information comes from the Children’s Defense Fund, a private group.

The gun Kai Kloepfer designed only works when unlocked by the fingerprint of the owner, and not for anyone else. The gun only recognizes the touch of its owner.

A winning design

It took the teenager seven months and over 1,500 hours to create a plastic model of his "smart gun." He entered his fingerprint handgun in a local science fair and won. In fact, he kept winning, all the way to the 2013 INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair. At the age of 16, he won the world’s top youth science competition.

More than 7.4 million people compete at science and engineering fairs around the world, Kai said. “But only 1,500 people each year get to attend the Intel Science Fair. I was selected by the judges to attend the Intel Science Fair and actually ended up winning first place grand award in engineering for that year.”

His INTEL award included a monetary prize. He asked the SmartTech Challenges Foundation for a grant. He received $50,000 from the organization. Its goal is to support innovation in gun safety.

Kai Kloepfer is now 18 years old. He has been using the grant money to improve the technology. He says the weapon he designed “doesn’t change the function of a firearm at all. It just makes it safer.”

He is now working to add the fingerprint lock technology to a real gun. He says he expects to one day see his “smart gun” for sale next to other firearms.

The young man plans to spend the next year improving his fingerprint handgun. Then he will start college at one of the world’s top universities - the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Shelley Schlender reported this story from Boulder. Ashley Thompson adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

talent – n. a special ability that allows someone to do something well

impossible – adj. not possible; unable to happen or to be done

youth – n. young people

innovation – n. the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

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