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Smart Guns Are Dumb

Smart Guns Are Dumb

C.D. Michel May 22, 2014. Posted in Legal Frontlines

American media has discovered the staggeringly odd notion of "Smart Guns." Should we praise the Lord that we are finally safe, and thank MSNBC for our deliverance?

Not so fast. The problem with all "smart" guns is that they don't always work and aren't always appropriate. How reliable is your iffy wi-fi connection? Smart guns are even iffier, which is why cops refuse to carry or use them.

Nonetheless, Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for mandating smart gun bling as part of his latest battle against the Second Amendment rights of all Americans. In proposing $2 million in "gun safety" grants for the Justice Department 2014 budget, Holder promoted so-called "smart gun" technology that could include gun owners wearing a bracelet that would only allow the gun to be fired when the write decoration was in close proximity. And this week the Brady Campaign sued the New Jersey Attorney General to force that state to formally confirm the commercial availability of "personalized handguns," and thus trigger a legislative mandate that only "smart guns" can be sold in the Tomato State. If they win, other civilian disarmament battleground states would no doubt jump on the dumb gun ban bandwagon.

"Smart" guns continue to be dumb as a concept, and also as a tested set of interrelated technologies. To the uninitiated, a so-called "smart" gun is one that can only be fired by a designated person. Ideally, in theory, that would be its owner. Many rather rudimentary design schemes for making a gun recognize the person pulling the trigger have been concocted, and simplistic versions of these restricted access firearms have been tepidly put on the market at various times over the past twenty or so years, with essentially no buyers. And for good reasons.

The smart gun concept originally raised its head last century. Sandia National Laboratories was tasked with studying the feasibility of smart gun technologies. As part of their research, they surveyed police agencies to determine what the most import factor was in selecting and using a firearm. Not surprisingly, police offices cited reliability as the most single most important feature they look for in a gun. In fact, reliability ranked three times higher than the next item down on the preference list. Apparently, cops insist that their guns always go off when they pull the trigger.

In situations where your life depends on it, I bet you want that too.

So far the designs for "smart guns" include pistols that measure your grip position and strength (factors that change when you are under stress from assault, or when your wife has to use your gun in an emergency), finger print scanners (that fail when you're under stress, are wearing gloves, or when your hands are covered in blood, sweat or dirt), and various forms of near-field accessories - brackets, wrist watches, rings (that fail when the electronic connection is lost, you forget to accessorize, or a rapist is between the shower you just got out of and your dressing table).

The State of New Jersey has been throwing money at gun makers for years, trying to get someone to invent a "smart gun" that actually works, although "works" is an amorphous and politicized concept. In a 2013 report by the National Institute of Justice ("A Review of Gun Safety Technologies"), they studied how gun makers tried and failed to deliver acceptably reliable "smart guns." Among the many ways that failed:

"Colt's Manufacturing Company ... two prototypes demonstrated that it was possible to integrate its concept into a handgun; however, the prototypes proved unreliable and not ruggedized enough to permit serious test firing, so reliability evaluations could not be conducted."

"Although Smith & Wesson proposed a goal of delivering 50 prototypes for test and evaluation, reliably integrating the electronics into the firearm proved to be a challenge and ultimately only two demonstration items were delivered."

"FN Manufacturing ... although erratic behavior was also observed in the authorization system and blunt mechanical force could override the electromechanically controlled blocking pin which would allow the gun to fire by an unauthorized user."

Incidentally, none of these documented multiple malfunctions considers the more fundamental problem of what happens when criminals, who've had no trouble building sophisticated universal electronic car alarm keys, figure out how to build electronic gun jammers. Civil libertarians already are concerned and assume that police departments will figure this out and have "smart" gun disabling technology at their disposal. It's not particle physics.

For "smart" guns to work consistently, every step in the technological series has to work right. One sequence failure, and you're defenseless.

Which gets us back to police and their gun selection. Remember, police overwhelmingly said reliability is the most important criteria for selecting a gun. So far there have plenty of "smart gun" designs, but none that provide anywhere near the level of reliability consumers and police now enjoy, and forever expect. Cops rebelled when "smart gun" laws were proposed that would have included them, and won exemptions for police under these laws. In other words, the "smart gun" technologies are too unreliable and dangerous for cops to even think about using. But politicians figure it is okay to put you at risk by mandating that you can only own such unreliable guns.

Legislative mandating is the tricky bit. New Jersey - the same state dumping tax dollars into ideologically driven firearm manufacturing research - passed a bill that outlaws the sale of anything but "smart guns" once such critters are "available" on the market. Similar laws are being considered elsewhere. In these laws there is no requirement, nor even a mention of reliability - much less a measurement of it. But police are exempted from the requirement (given the number of guns law enforcement officers lose annually, this is an important issue).

Interestingly, because the NJ law mandating smart guns to the exclusion of all others is triggered by a "smart gun" hitting the market, two gun sellers who considered offering a "smart gun" became instant pariahs to consumers who respect the Second Amendment. Whether this triggered to NJ law is the issue behind the Brady group's lawsuit - they want to force the law to be triggered and for New Jersey residents to only buy "smart" guns. Ironically, some NJ politicians now recognize by mandating smart guns they are actually keeping them off the market. They may revise the law to address that. Regardless, once the dumb "smart" guns are commercially available, nothing stops politicians from making these unreliable products our only option.

The only way fool proof a gun is to educate the fool. Even some gun ban groups see that, and oppose the technology because more people may buy the guns, thinking they are safer to have in the home. No need for firearms safety instruction if the "smart" gun does all your thinking for you, right?

"Smart guns" have proven themselves to be dumb - for cops, for civilians, and for the fundamental freedom of choice every American deserves. New Jersey or any other state debasing freedom of choice and freedom from fear of assault, rape of death at the hands of thugs - all because the battery died in a mandated "smart gun" - is unacceptable, actionable, probably unconstitutional, and certainly cause for consumers and civil rights activists to revolt.