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January 18, 2015

"Smart Guns Save Lives. So Where Are They?"

18kristof-articleLargeThe question in the title of this post is one that long-time readers know I have been asking on this blog for nearly a decade.  Today the question also serves as the headline for this Nicholas Kristof op-ed in the New York Times.  Here are excerpts: 

About 20 children and teenagers are shot daily in the United States, according to a study by the journal Pediatrics. Indeed, guns kill more preschool-­age children (about 80 a year) than police officers (about 50), according to the F.B.I. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This toll is utterly unnecessary, for the technology to make childproof guns goes back more than a century. Beginning in the 1880s, Smith & Wesson (whose gun was used in the Walmart killing) actually sold childproof handguns that required a lever to be depressed as the trigger was pulled.  “No ordinary child under 8 years of age can possibly discharge it,” Smith & Wesson boasted at the time, and it sold half-­a-­million of these guns, but, today, it no longer offers that childproof option.

Doesn’t it seem odd that your cellphone can be set up to require a PIN or a fingerprint, but there’s no such option for a gun?  Which brings us to Kai Kloepfer, a lanky 17­year­old high school senior in Boulder, Colo. After the cinema shooting in nearby Aurora, Kloepfer decided that for a science fair project he would engineer a “smart gun” that could be fired only by an authorized user....

Kloepfer designed a smart handgun that fires only when a finger it recognizes is on the grip. More than 1,000 fingerprints can be authorized per gun, and Kloepfer says the sensor is 99.999 percent accurate.  A child can’t fire the gun.  Neither can a thief — important here in a country in which more than 150,000 guns are stolen annually.

Kloepfer’s design won a grand prize in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Then he won a $50,000 grant from the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation to refine the technology.  By the time he enters college in the fall (he applied early to Stanford and has been deferred), he hopes to be ready to license the technology to a manufacturer.

There are other approaches to smart guns.  The best known, the Armatix iP1, made by a German company and available in the United States through a complicated online procedure, can be fired only if the shooter is wearing a companion wristwatch.

The National Rifle Association seems set against smart guns, apparently fearing that they might become mandatory.  One problem has been an unfortunate 2002 New Jersey law stipulating that three years after smart guns are available anywhere in the United States, only smart guns can be sold in the state.  The attorney general’s office there ruled recently that the Armatix smart gun would not trigger the law, but the provision has still led gun enthusiasts to bully dealers to keep smart guns off the market everywhere in the U.S.

Opponents of smart guns say that they aren’t fully reliable.  Some, including Kloepfer’s, will need batteries to be recharged once a year or so.  Still, if Veronica Rutledge had had one in her purse in that Idaho Walmart, her son wouldn’t have been able to shoot and kill her.

“Smart guns are going to save lives,” says Stephen Teret, a gun expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They’re not going to save all lives, but why wouldn’t we want to make guns as safe a consumer product as possible?”  David Hemenway, a public health expert at Harvard, says that the way forward is for police departments or the military to buy smart guns, creating a market and proving they work....

Smart guns aren’t a panacea.  But when even a 17­year­old kid can come up with a safer gun, why should the gun lobby be so hostile to the option of purchasing one?  Something is amiss when we protect our children from toys that they might swallow, but not from firearms.  So Veronica Rutledge is dead, and her son will grow up with the knowledge that he killed her — and we all bear some responsibility when we don’t even try to reduce the carnage.

Among other potential benefits, I think a sophisticated commitment by gun rights advocated to smart gun technologies could in some ways expand gun rights to people now too often denied their rights by overly broad federal firearm restrictions.  

Right now, for example, anyone convicted of any felony is forever criminally precluded from ever even possessing a firearm.  In a world with more technologically sophisticated guns, some kind of microchip might be installed in certain hunting rifles so that they only work at designated times in designated areas and perhaps then persons guilty of nonviolent felonies could be exempted from broad felon-in-possession prohibitions in order to be able to use these kinds of guns for sport.  Or, perhaps technology might allow all persons after completing their formal punishment to still be able to exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms: ex-cons might be permitted only access to smart guns with GPS tracking/reporting technology (something comparable to the internet tracking/screening software now regularly required to be on sex offenders' computers) so that authorities can regularly follow when and how former felons are exercising their gun rights.

A few recent and older related posts:

January 18, 2015 at 07:15 AM | Permalink

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Comments

The ideal situation after Heller/McDonald is that after it is recognized that the right to keep and bear arms constitutionally includes the individual owning weapons that some reasonable regulations could be agreed upon. The failure to pass a background check, offered by perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the Senate & a NRA friendly Republican after a major tragedy was in that respect sad. The smart gun concept is another path here. It is not only a technical fix, but one that might in some fashion (perhaps by funding incentives or something else) promoted by public policy.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 18, 2015 11:09:15 AM

"About 20 children and teenagers are shot daily in the United States, according to a study by the journal Pediatrics. Indeed, guns kill more preschool-­age children (about 80 a year) than police officers (about 50), according to the F.B.I. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Our feckless and cowardly Congress sucks at the teet of the NRA and could give a damn. Let the slaughter continue.

Posted by: anon5 | Jan 18, 2015 12:50:28 PM

Key phrase:

...ex-cons might be permitted only access to smart guns with GPS tracking/reporting technology (something comparable to the internet tracking/screening software now regularly required to be on sex offenders' computers) so that authorities can regularly follow when and how former felons are exercising their gun rights.

"First, they came for the sex offenders..."

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jan 18, 2015 4:50:17 PM

Praise to Prof. Berman for recognizing that technology is the only road to safety. If the left wing lawyer could be trusted, the obvious answer is, choice. People hear of a neighbor losing a child to a gun accident, they adopt the technology, and make it the market standard within a short time. The lawyer cannot be trusted, however.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 18, 2015 9:37:32 PM

Sorry, but "smart guns" are nonsense and a fiction. Only an idiot liberal could believe in such. There are countless more critical problems to be addressed than the phony "gun violence."

Posted by: Backpfeifengesicht | Jan 19, 2015 8:08:59 AM

"Our feckless and cowardly Congress sucks at the teet of the NRA and could give a damn. Let the slaughter continue."

How about idiotic, anti-American academia sucks at the genitals of a failed black president and his racist ilk?

Posted by: Tom Fituugen | Jan 19, 2015 8:11:53 AM

Backpefeifengesicht, dismisses any evidence regarding "phony gun violence." Recognizing that evidence does nothing to change the mind of a true believer, I nevertheless present the following:

"In 2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 67% of all homicides in the U.S. were conducted using a firearm. According to the FBI, in 2012, there were 8,855 total firearm-related homicides in the US, with 6,371 of those attributed to handguns. 61% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. are suicides. In 2010, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicides, and 11,078 firearm-related homicides in the U.S. In 2010, 358 murders were reported involving a rifle while 6,009 were reported involving a handgun; another 1,939
were reported with an unspecified type of firearm. High-profile assassinations such as those of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and the Beltway sniper attacks involved the use of rifles, usually with telescopic sights, from concealed locations."

So much for "phony gun violence.

Posted by: anon5 | Jan 19, 2015 11:41:57 AM

Tom Fituuegen writes: "How about idiotic, anti-American academia sucks at the genitals of a failed black president and his racist ilk?

Not at all sure what your racist screed has to do with the topic at hand.

Posted by: anon5 | Jan 19, 2015 11:44:36 AM

Those who call others racist over a substantive disagreement on another subject are called race whores. Zero tolerance for race whores in the work place, since they cause intimidation and a hostile work or school environment. All race whores must be disciplined at work, and fired if they repeat themselves.

That being said, I have been both a race whore and a race whore scourge. It's like, whatever. All whatevers are case, and the fault of judges who are the Johns of the race whores.

That remark goes to the credibility of the academic lawyer, which is nil, their all being biased to the left and toward the rent. That is why I said, the lawyer cannot be trusted, and therefore the resistance to any regulation must remain vigorous.

And as to the statistics of the use of guns, had the victims all been armed as they are in Switzerland and in Israel , there would be little gun violence. If the Charlie Hebdo employees were being threatened for many years, they should have been carrying weapons and shot back. The government make work guard could have used their help as he was executed. I consider the Draconian gun control laws of France to be the most powerful factor in that massacre.

It is as if the left does not read history. The Jews among the victims should have disobeyed the law and obeyed the lessons of history.

So anon5, you must disclose the fraction of your income that comes from government, so that we may discount the credibility of your personal attacks and remarks by the same fraction.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 19, 2015 1:20:14 PM

Supremacy Claus,

anon5 wrote: "In 2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 67% of all homicides in the U.S. were conducted using a firearm. According to the FBI, in 2012, there were 8,855 total firearm-related homicides in the US, with 6,371 of those attributed to handguns. 61% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. are suicides. In 2010, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicides, and 11,078 firearm-related homicides in the U.S. In 2010, 358 murders were reported involving a rifle while 6,009 were reported involving a handgun; another 1,939
were reported with an unspecified type of firearm. High-profile assassinations such as those of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and the Beltway sniper attacks involved the use of rifles, usually with telescopic sights, from concealed locations."

Do you contest the stats? If so, say so. If not, say so.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | Jan 19, 2015 3:36:14 PM

Professor Berman,

I think you are way too willing to think that reasonableness can prevail in any public debate over guns at this point. The problem is that the NRA/survivalist/John Birch crowd has primed a influential minority of gun owners to identify any kind of technical solution that involves computerized equipment embedded into firearms as a prelude to government remote control of said firearms. In this paranoid fantasy, once there is any kind of ability for the gun to communicate with computer networks, the new world order tyrants will be able to disarm the citizenry with the push of a button, rendering them helpless to repel the government's socialist Blank Panther jack-booted thugs. (Picture Obama's desk with a big red button "in case of emergency, press to disable firearms of true patriots".)

For that reason, I think that the most sophisticated approach to reform here is to disclaim any elaborate plans for employing GPS, etc., and simply advocate for non-networked tech that can have fingerprint (or other biometric) profiles loaded onto it via a wired connection, but that otherwise offers no outside connectivity.

Certainly there is no need to advocate for any kind of "tracking"/"reporting." Indeed, doing so is essentially carrying water for the NRA, intentionally or not. Not only would such be legitimately problematic for numerous civil liberties-related reasons, but its contribution to safety would be completely marginal compared to widespread smart gun technology, and even discussing it in the same breath as the much-less-invasive fingerprint/biometric tech plays into the hands of those who want to paint it all with the same "they are coming for our guns" paranoid brush.

Sticking strictly to the biometrics angle would accomplish 95% of the good while limiting as much as possible the basis for the kind of wild and paranoid fantasies that continually frustrate reasonable progress in this area.

Posted by: anon3 | Jan 20, 2015 1:14:33 PM

Dave. I do not dispute those facts, nor do I dispute the facts on the David Duke web site. The Jews this, the Jews that. Both are hate speech, citing only facts.

Propaganda engages in bad faith by Kissinger lies. Kissinger reported the State of the State Department to the Senate Committee overseeing it. He failed to mention the small matter of the carpet bombing of Cambodia, in violation of international laws and treaties. Years later, he was asked, how he could fail to do so. He replied, they did not ask. One may cite facts and still be a liar by omitting the facts that rebut the propaganda.

The legal mandate that Swiss and Israeli people be armed with automatic weapons, and their low crime and suicide rates must be explained. The nearly non-existent crime rates in many rural counties of the United States where people are armed to the teeth, must be addressed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 21, 2015 2:04:31 AM

A Smartgun is kind of like a Smartphone. Only dumbschmucks carry them.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 22, 2015 11:48:52 PM

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