One of the president’s new ideas to save Americans from their fascination with firearms is the budding smart gun market. As he puts it, “In the greatest, most technologically advanced nation on earth, there is no reason for this.”
“We need to develop new technologies that make guns safer,” says the president.
Smart guns are the perfect combination of Silicon Valley slick and paternalistic government program. These (still not commercially viable) guns are: 1) an attempt to make sure only authorized individuals are allowed to use the gun; 2) an aid in the process of recovering a stolen firearm; and 3) a tool to prevent negligent shootings.
Unfortunately, smart guns open the doors to more problems than they could ever hope to solve, without the slightest hope of decreasing firearms-related deaths.
Smart guns come in many forms, from biometric locks to more simple bracelets or rings with embedded RFID chips that must be worn to unlock the firearm. Without the correct biometric reading, fingerprint, or RFID chip, the firearms would be “bricked” and completely useless to any non-authorized user. As the president wondered, “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?”
In practice, this process gets a little messy.
We’ve all had or seen this experience before: you ask Siri a question and somehow the little digital assistant butchers your words and Googles an incomprehensible mess. Annoying, but ultimately silly.
Now imagine you are at the range and your rifle won’t connect to your RFID bracelet to unlock so you can’t shoot. Inconvenient, but eventually it will work. Imagine you’re hunting and finally see that big buck you’ve been waiting all season for, but alas, your gun’s battery is dead. Frustrating, but there will be other bucks.
But now imagine you wake up in the middle of the night to hear the dog barking, windows smashing downstairs as you fumble in the darkness, praying that your Bluetooth will finally pair with your shotgun.
That could be deadly.
Thank God, America is safer than ever before and such a situation is unlikely for most families, but you can easily see the escalating danger from technology getting in the way when you need a firearm the most.
Are you willing to bet your life on a smart gun? Would you put your safety in Siri’s hands? These questions aside, the tracking issues the president touted could have serious consequences for civil liberties.
In his gun control advocacy address, the president said, “If there’s an app that can find a missing tablet, which happens to me a lot. If we can do it for an iPad, there’s no way we can’t do it with a stolen gun.”
If you are at all concerned about things like the NSA’s use of mass surveillance technology, malicious hacking by foreign nations and individuals, and violations of personal data by companies, why would you want to add yet another device to that mix?
Maybe you would trust President Obama with that power, but would you trust President Trump?
Even worse, smart guns have no hope of decreasing death due to firearms. Nearly two-thirds of firearms-related deaths in the U.S. are suicides.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing smart gun technology could do to prevent these deaths.
These devices are also incredibly expensive. It’s likely that very few regular consumers would purchase a pricey, potentially unreliable firearm when there are far better alternatives available.
To have any real effect on gun-related deaths, smart gun technology would need to somehow replace not only every firearm on the market before it is sold, but be able to retrofit the 310 million (or so) firearms currently owned by American citizens. That means retrofitting countless firearms, many of which are worth one or two hundred of dollars with a fledgling technology that could cost hundreds of dollars more.
Instead of relying on dubious safety gadgets to prevent theft and negligent shootings, Americans should just practice more common sense.
You don’t need an app for that.