You don’t typically see guns at San Francisco tech confabs. The city itself saw its last gun store close in 2015. But on a sunny February morning, a ballroom at the Palace Hotel is filled with an unusual mix of engineers, veteran police officers, dot-com investors and gunsmiths. Some of them—mostly cops—are visibly packing.
We’re gathered for the 2016 International San Francisco Smart Gun Symposium, billed as a response to President Obama’s January remarks on gun safety. After citing gun accident statistics, Obama asked: “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?” It’s a question Ron Conway, a co-sponsor of the symposium, is eager to answer. Conway is one of tech’s most influential angel investors, known for his early-stage backing of Google, Facebookand Airbnb. In recent years he has become San Francisco’s agitator in chief, fighting limits on short-term rentals, assembling an immigration-reform lobbying group and financing mayor Ed Lee’s campaign. Today’s cause: his Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, which is spending $1.5 million to spur development of firearm safety tech.