Smart Guns Don’t Kill People

Picture: Steve Cross

Technologist and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton explores the development of ‘smart guns‘ designed only to work with the owner’s grip or palmprint. These biometric devices are not entirely new, but are still unable to make it into the marketplace. Smart gun tech may have appeased the most idealogical contenders of either side of the debate on Sandy Hook and other gun massacres: they would not have prevented the killers from being able to use any of the firearms in question, but allowed the original owners to keep them without any infringement of their rights.

Nick Bilton via the NYT’s Bits Blog:

For example, the iGun, made by Mossberg Group, cannot be fired unless its owner is wearing a ring with a chip that activates the gun.

But you would be hard pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores. “The gun industry has no interest in making smart-guns. There is no incentive for them,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy. “There is also no appetite by the government to press ahead with any kind of regulation requiring smart-guns. These safety options exist today.”

But gun advocates are staunchly against these technologies, partly because so many guns are bought not in gun shops, but in private sales. “Many guns are bought and sold on the secondary market without background checks, and that kind of sale would be inhibited with fingerprinting-safety technologies in guns,” he said.

I called several major gun makers and the National Rifle Association. No one thinks a smart-gun will stop a determined killer. But I thought Smith & Wesson and Remington, for instance, would want to discuss how technology might help reduce accidental shootings, which killed 600 people and injured more than 14,000 in the United States in 2010. The gunmakers did not respond, and neither did the N.R.A.

A Wired magazine article from 2002 gives a glimpse of the N.R.A.’s thinking. “Mere mention of ‘smart-gun’ technology elicited sneers and snickers faster than a speeding bullet,” the magazine wrote. It quoted the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as saying, “Tragic victims couldn’t have been saved by trigger locks or magazine bans or ‘smart-gun’ technology, or some new government commission running our firearms companies.”

TriggerSmart, an Irish company, has patented a childproof smart-gun. One feature is a “safe zone” that can be installed in schools and acts as a force field, disabling any TriggerSmart gun that enters a designated area. Robert McNamara, the company’s founder, has been trying to persuade gun makers to adopt the technology. He isn’t having much luck. “One gun manufacturer told us if we put this technology in one particular gun and some kid gets shot with another gun, then they will have to put them in all guns,” he said.

“We believe we could have helped prevent the Newtown massacre.”

You’ll notice how quickly the NRA equates reasonable proposals like smart gun technology with outright bans and government seizure. The impediments reveal the true, insidious nature of despicable groups like the NRA, who don’t care about human beings unless they have a large pocketbook. They don’t lobby for gun owners, but for large gun manufacturers; gun owners are the window dressing, support for them is incidental, tertiary, and superficial.

This is not the sole solution in a)the rampant problem with hundreds of thousands of unregistered guns, b)the irresponsibility of gun policy in this country, which can be well-regulated without violation of rights, or c)search of a problem, depending on your stance. Obviously ‘smart guns’ would not do anything about illegal guns or second sale or heirloom firearms, which account for a large percentage of sales and crime. This is the problem with most of the proposed legislation and ‘fixes’ from the left; they disproportionately affect responsible gun owners and not criminal use of guns.

Wayne LaPierre, no better than Diane Feinstein, used the tragedy as a pulpit to distract towards everything else besides his own moneyed lobby. It was the culture. It was vidyuh games (thanks, Jack Thompson). It was Hollywood. It was Jon Stewart. It was *as always* the atheists and gays. It was those damn mentally infirm. Hold! For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, would the NRA take an official and humanitarian position on our crumbling mental health care infrastructure? Would they promise millions in direly needed aid to prevent tragedies wrought by unfortunately afflicted people (and not their guns)? No, of course, the NRA’s position is that the mentally unfit should be registered, locked down, locked up, controlled, banned, pushed, filed,stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. So the people themselves can be infringed upon and violated, but a material possession like guns cannot? Riiiight.

They are unforgivable hypocrites at best, and monstrous profiteers at worst; they have done their part to arm the mentally illAnd in 2007, the NRA fought to allow suspected terrorists of having guns.

My eyes began to glaze over and drool formed around the zombified corners of my mouths as gun advocates praised ideas like putting more guns in schools, more armed guards in our police state children’s vicinity, arm the teachers and principals, FUCK IT, ARM THE KIDS THEMSELVES! None of this makes any goddamned sense, of course, when we look at instances of armed people (including cops) who make shootings even worse by playing hero and spraying more bullets in our combat zones public spaces, often getting themselves and others injured or killed.

And while I don’t believe that there is any NWO scheme to take the guns out of our cold dead hands, I do think that Democrats view it as an easy P.R. win. Another insincere and empty gesture, fully knowing that the final legislation will be watered down, ineffective, meaningless and probably contain a few provisions for special interests and corporations. It might even contain a payout for the NRA, if they play their cards right. Whatever bill is passed will expire or be struck down a few years later, and the whole dance can begin again. The whole hysteria, you’ll notice, is great for gun sales.

Neither LaPierre, Feinstein, nor any other mainstream pundit is proposing any combination of rational and evidence-based approaches to guns or mental health. Even Obama’s statements about making mental health care more easily accessible were lacking any resolution, detail or conviction. They are all knee-jerk reactions based on ideological bias and false, dystopic views of how the world really works.

As points out, it is a complicated issue with seemingly contradictory statistics and no clear answers. There is academic disagreement and dubious causation for what is happening in America, where gun manufacturing and sales are up, but violent crime and crimes committed with guns are down. However, “non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased last year for the third straight year“, so there are other factors. We don’t know if there are more gun owners, or more of the same people buying more guns. And still the maniacal massacres continue. Include suicides in the number of gun deaths, and the whole story changes. Gun deaths may outstrip falling rates of automobile deaths by 2015.

I’m not an advocate for any sort of ban at this point, but conflating handguns to assault rifles is like apples to oranges. Or comparing guns to fists and hammers. Or small businesses to multinational corporations. Or fracking done in the 50’s to fracking done today. Ad nauseam. It’s absurd. Guns still account for over double all other murder weapons in the US combined.

I’m sure to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle whenever I talk about guns, but I just don’t see the problem with treating them like automobiles. Responsible people register them, irresponsible people don’t. If you want to keep it in your garage and not use it, don’t register it and don’t take it out. If you want to take it out and not pay a hefty fine or punishment, then register it. They only get banned when they get used irresponsibly.

So guns don’t kill people. Smart guns don’t kill people. Sane and insane people use guns to kill lots of people (more people than other weapons can in a single shot), including themselves. And those in power each have vested interests in not being reasonable. Perhaps the best coverage of the shootings in 2012 was summed up in The Onion’s headline: Fuck Everything.


It was a typical day in junior physics class at Point Cordial High when things took a turn... to the atypical! Mild-mannered Breshvic's seething distaste of physics broke through its last tensile straw as the very fabric of spacetime holding him in place tore like the flimsy wet blouse of an amateur porn artist! Young Breshvic found himself disembodied, floating wildly in a place with no shape or form, but more directions than previously revealed to him, and not easily explained in this format! Had he gone to that ethereal void of wraiths and gods? Had he crossed over to the land of dead? HAD HE GONE UTTERLY MAD? Had he simply fallen asleep during another lecture? NO! It was in this astral plane between reality and dream, nexus of dimension, the OMNIVERSE, that he first learned to use his powers, clawing madly to survive against nightmarish demons and malevolent cosmic shadows!

11 Comments on "Smart Guns Don’t Kill People"

  1. bobbiethejean | Jan 10, 2013 at 3:17 pm |

    Anyone who’s played MGS4 knows why this won’t work. Gun laundering. I guarantee you, it will happen.

  2. this was a poorly written and shoddy article, one sidedness at its finest..

  3. What a brilliant idea.

    A gun that the Government (or any Junior High script kiddie) can turn off at will.

  4. Anti-gunners: The more you talk about guns, the more guns people buy.
    Pro-gunners: The more you talk about guns, the more expensive guns become.

    Moral of the story: Everyone shut the hell up. You’re not helping.

  5. Apathesis | Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07 pm |

    iGun website seems like it has not been updated in over four years. It also seems their technology is too bulky to be housed in anything smaller than a shotgun. A search on the Mossberg site turned up no info on the iGun technology. It seems DEAD.

    I’m surprised, but thankful, the fantasy of microstamping didn’t turn up in this article.

    Here’s the TriggerSmart system in action:

    Good luck getting a safe grip or being able to holster your piece with this clunky technology. And didn’t Mythbusters get blocked from discussing how easy to hack RFID chips are?

    • It’s a fair point about RFID hacking or stamping, many of our new technologies, guns or otherwise, are beginning to pose serious privacy questions all around us.

      As for the viability, I really can’t attest about any one specific company, but I do think that when it gets past its early stages it might be perfectly manageable to lock a weapon with biometrics. We’re seeing the tech getting smaller and lighter in other uses.

      • Apathesis | Jan 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm |

        Oh, the NRA definitely does more damage than good. Armed police in every
        school might help, but I don’t think it’s worth creating a police state
        in places where many kids already feel trapped. There would have to be dozens of armed guards to really make a school secure. Who’s going to protect the kids from rogue guards? Anyway, Wayne LaPierre just
        makes bogus sales pitches and his hairdo does him no favors.

        I think it’s pretty silly that private sales don’t require
        background checks, but would ATF make the NICS system available to
        private citizens? Either require permits, or make NICS available to citizens who wish to make private sales. In Massachusetts, private sales must be done here (or mailed):
        This negates the need for background checks because Permit ID#s must be
        entered, and Mass permit holders can only transfer guns to other Mass
        permit holders; transfers to a party from another state must go through
        the recipient’s FFL. In many other states, however, no paperwork even needs to be filed.

        At best, .013% of gun owners are involved in murders. Creating a
        national database of mentally ill is crazy, but so isn’t a national gun
        registry just because a few rotten eggs ruin it for everyone. It only proves that you legally own a gun or don’t. It does not really stop anything and really only facilitates confiscation.

        Technology to make guns a lot safer could cause the price to skyrocket and be cost prohibitive, at which point I imagine police and military will be conveniently and suspiciously exempt. Honestly, guns would have to be designed from the ground up to implement these sorts of security systems in a cost-effective, efficient, and practical manner. Maybe by then we’ll have laser or microwave weapons.

  6. "Big" Richard Johnson | Jan 10, 2013 at 11:47 pm |

    Criminals are the gun industries biggest customers.

  7. this would double or triple the cost of fire arms, and for very little gain. Anyone who does not like this could probably disable it by studying the mechanisms and taking it apart. It would not have stopped any of the mass shootings.

    also, “Responsible people register them” is false. It would be fine with me execpt for the fact that throughout history, governments tipicly would make you register your weapon before taking them away, and on top of that, a gun registry does nothing to stop or prevent crime. It also does nothing to show who the criminal was since 90% of the weapons used in crime are stolen. on top of that, it would cost the goverment a hell of a lot of money to keep it up and running. Why spend all that money for no real gain?

  8. The policemen wouldn’t like these ‘smart guns’ because they want to be able to pick any gun and be able to fire it. That also means no one else will be able to fire it too. It’s kind of a Catch-22.

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