Schools turn to artificial intelligence to spot guns as companies push lawmakers for state funding

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AI software must be patented, “designated as a viable counterterrorism technology,” comply with certain security industry standards, already in use in at least 30 states and “at least 300 Three broad firearm classifications” with sub-classifications should be detectable. “At least 2,000 changes,” among other things.

Only one company currently meets all of those criteria: the same organization that told Kansas lawmakers preparing the state budget. That company, ZeroEyes, is a fast-growing firm founded by military veterans after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

The legislation pending before Kansas Governor Laura Kelly highlights two things. After several high-profile shootings, school security has become a multi-billion dollar industry. And in state capitals, some companies are successfully persuading policymakers to write their specific corporate solutions into state law.

ZeroEyes also appears to be the only firm that qualifies for state firearms detection programs that were implemented last year in Michigan and Utah, approved earlier this year in Florida and Iowa, and in Colorado, Louisiana, and Florida. And proposed legislation in Wisconsin.

On Friday, Missouri became the latest state to pass legislation designed for ZeroEyes, giving schools matching grants to purchase firearms detection software designated as “potential counterterrorism technology.” I offered $2.5 million.

“We're not paying legislators to write into their bills,” said Sam Alaimo, co-founder and chief revenue officer of ZeroEyes. But “if they're doing that, that means I think they're doing their homework, and they're making sure they're getting tested technology.

ZeroEyes uses artificial intelligence with surveillance cameras to identify sighted guns, then flashes alerts to a 24-hour operations center staffed by former law enforcement officers and military veterans. If verified by ZeroEyes personnel as a legitimate threat, an alert is sent to school officials and local authorities.

The goal is to “get that gun before that trigger is squeezed, or that gun gets to the door,” Alamo said.

Some people question the technology. But some question the legislative strategy.

Charles' director of school safety and security, Jason Stoddard, said the highly specific Kansas bill — specifically the requirement that the company have its products in at least 30 states — is “probably the most serious thing that has ever happened.” I have ever read”. County Public Schools in Maryland.

Stoddard is the chairperson of the newly launched National Council of School Safety Directors, created to set standards for school safety personnel and for lawmakers to push back against vendors pushing specialty products.

When states allocate millions of dollars to certain products, it often leaves less money for other critical school safety efforts, such as electronic door locks, breakable windows, communication systems and security personnel, he said.

“Artificial intelligence-powered weapon detection is absolutely fantastic,” Stoddard said. But that's probably not the priority that 95 percent of schools in the United States need right now.

The technology can also be expensive, which is why some states are establishing grant programs. In Florida, the total cost of legislation to implement ZeroEyes technology in schools in just two counties is $929,000.

ZeroEyes isn't the only company using surveillance systems with artificial intelligence to spot guns. A competitor, Omnilert, switched from emergency alert systems to firearms detection several years ago and also offers round-the-clock monitoring centers to quickly assess guns seized with AI and alert local authorities.

But Omnilert does not yet have a patent for its technology. And it has not yet been designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a counterterrorism technology under a 2002 federal law that provides liability protection for companies. He has applied for both.

Although Omnilert is in hundreds of schools, its products are not in 30 states, said Mark Franken, Omnilert's vice president of marketing. But he said his company should not be disqualified from the state grant.

In Iowa, legislation requiring schools to install firearm detection software was amended to require companies providing the technology to use it as a counterterrorism technology by July 1, 2025. Can get federal post. But state Rep. Ross Wilburn, a Democrat, said the designation was originally intended as an incentive for companies to develop the technology.

“It was not put in place to provide any kind of benefit to a particular company or any other company,” Wilburn said during the House debate.

In Kansas, ZeroEyes' chief strategy officer presented an overview of its technology to the House K-12 Education Budget Committee in February. It included a live demonstration of its AI gun detection and several real-world surveillance images of guns spotted in schools, parking lots and transit stations. The presentation also noted that authorities had directly arrested about a dozen people last year as a result of zero-eyes alerts.

Kansas State Representative Adam Thomas, a Republican, initially proposed naming Zero Eyes in the funding legislation. The final version removed the company's name but retained the quality that essentially limited it to ZeroEyes.

House K-12 Budget Committee Chair Christy Williams, a Republican, vigorously defended the provision. He argued during a negotiating meeting with senators that because of student safety, the state could not afford to delay the standard bidding process. He also described the company's technology as unique.

“We don't think there was any other alternative,” Williams said last month.

The $5 million appropriation won't cover every school, but Thomas said the amount could increase later when people see how well the ZeroEyes technology works.

“I hope it does exactly what we've seen it do and stop gun violence in schools,” Thomas told The Associated Press, “and we can get it to every school.”


The lab reported from Jefferson City, Missouri. Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed from Des Moines, Iowa.

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