Thursday, November 5, 2015

My take on smart guns

Smart guns are firearms that incorporate some type of technology that makes it difficult for anyone other than the authorized user to discharge the weapon. There are several such technologies, but to the best of my knowledge, no smart gun is commercially available in the United States.

Yesterday, a reader asked me address my view about smart guns here in my blog, so here we go. I like the concept of a smart gun a lot. You need not look far to find an example of a police officer killed with his or her own sidearm. When my colleague Deputy Sheriff Craig Dodge was murdered in 1987, his killer, Terry Reynolds, helped himself to Craig's .357 revolver. I would have been glad to know at the time that it was a brick. I also think smart guns could be a good choice for some civilian firearms owners, and would almost certainly avoid a few of the tragic deaths we read about where children have gotten their hands on mom or dad's handgun.

Here's the problem: almost all smart gun technologies rely on electronic components, turning a mechanical device into an electromechanical one. My experience with biometrics, RFID, and Bluetooth LE on other devices has been okay and improving over time, but certainly not flawless. Introducing the need for power makes a smart gun inherently less reliable. Power sources are not permanent, and electrical components add complexity. Recovering from an electronics failure requires time and effort, and sometimes can be really annoying. We see plenty of examples of this in every day life with electronic gizmos from keyless ignitions to remote controls.

I would have to think long and hard about introducing another significant potential point of failure into any device upon which my life could depend. On the other hand, I realize the ever-present risk of my own gun being used against me. In my only encounter where someone was trying to kill me, I came within a gnat's eyelash of just that scenario. I would trade a certain amount of technological failure risk, for the diminished risk of being defeated, disarmed, and killed with my own sidearm. I would need to be convinced that the technology is sufficiently robust to make that trade a wise one.

Basically, whether officer or civilian, I'd like to have the choice. If smart guns were available, I think some people would consider that option, and I think the technology would improve over time. I saw my first prototype smart gun nearly 40 years ago, fitted to a Smith & Wesson revolver. It required the user to wear a ring, without which the trigger would not move. You needed a ring on both hands for ambidextrous shooting. It wasn't electronic at all, rather magnetic. I wonder if that technology is still around, if it has developed at all, and how it might develop if market forces were at work.


Steve said...


I was pleased to read your take on smart guns. I think pretty much the same way you do in all aspects of the subject. I have no problem with anyone who "chooses" to use a smart gun, but I do not think it is necessary or wise to mandate smart guns in place of conventional firearms. The recent television coverage of the subject, in my opinion, was biased in favor of those who advocate smart guns and against the NRA or anyone who opposed the idea of making smart guns the only legal way to avail oneself of the right protected by the second amendment. I have experienced more than enough failures of modern technology. To put myself in a situation where my life depended on them is not something I would want to do at this stage of the game.

I realize that smart guns have the potential to save many lives, but we could save a great many more by eliminating automobiles, fast food, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. We have left all those to an individual's choice, and because a reliable firearm might mean the difference between life and death, we should leave that as a choice as well.

Even if smart guns were "infallible", I'd want to know, that in my absence, my wife or child could grab my gun to defend their own life if need be, and I'm not sure if that is something technology can handle. How would smart gun technology know the difference if my wife or child wanted to commit suicide, or murder someone, or if they were trying to fend off an attacker?

Anonymous said...

Even if "smart gun" tech was 100% foolproof, we'd save far more lives by eliminating all privately-owned swimming pools (and just think how hard it would be to get multi-millionaire politicians and their multi-millionaire/billionaire supporters to go for that one).

Anonymous said...

I agree with your take on "smart gun" technology for the most part.

My biggest problem with smart guns is the fact that an out of control government has unlimited resources and could render a smart gun useless if they wanted to. It is not politically correct to mention it but in reading extensively about the discussions leading to the Founding Fathers adopting the Second Amendment the FACT is that the FFs saw the need for the PEOPLE to have the power to overthrow a tyrannical government or other threats foreign and domestic.
Gun Nut

Steve said...

I realize the concept of smart guns is, even by its backers and developers, not promoted as being the perfect cure for gun violence, whether intentional or accidental. Certainly, a legal owner of a smart gun could suddenly go nuts or something and start shooting people. There could be failures of the technology for various reasons that render the gun useless by a person who really needs it. There will be ways for the insane or criminally minded to get around the technology (certainly they will still have access to conventional firearms even if smart guns were made mandatory by law). They could cut off the owner's finger or steal the owner's ring to activate the gun, for example. Where they would do the most good is probably in preventing accidental shootings by someone who is not supposed to have the gun. One of the major problems there will be the cost and the idea that most people will have that, "It won't happen in my family; I know what I'm doing."

I'm not sure if Gun Nut's hypothesis is correct (the government being able to render the smart guns useless), but the idea about the founding fathers' intent certainly is. I'm also not sure if Anon 12:48 has accurate figures for the claim about swimming pools, but I'm sure there are many other things we could do, or mandate by, law that would save many more lives than are lost to gun deaths that a smart gun might have prevented.

The media has fostered this idea that guns are bad, and anyone who wants one or has one is an idiot. Who can blame the uninformed from believing the lies and misrepresentations when they hear them so often.

Anonymous said...

"I'm also not sure if Anon 12:48 has accurate figures for the claim about swimming pools"

Here you go.

Steve said...

Anon 3:15 p.m.,

Thanks for the stats. I wasn't necessarily disagreeing, just not sure if you had the stats to back up your claim. It would appear you might be right, though accidental drownings are not restricted to swimming pools. I would imagine a lot of those were in oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and even bathtubs. It's not likely we could ban any of those. Still, it is possible there were more drowned in swimming pools than accidentally shot, though perhaps, not as much different as you would have us believe. That being said, there are many things we could ban or restrict that would save more lives than those lost by accidental shootings. How about driving cars and/or motorcycles, crossing railroad tracks, smoking (to eliminate the fires caused by smoking), drinking (to eliminate traffic and other accidents caused by drinking), working with farm machinery, etc.