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February 23, 2008

Technology, smart guns, GPS tracking and a better Second Amendment

Tech0106gun_485v2 I just noticed on SSRN this effective short article about the modern Second Amendment debated headlined "Public Safety and the Right to Bear Arms."  I found the final paragraph of the piece especially insightful:

[A better Second Amendment debate would not focus on whether the Amendment protects an individual right, but rather] would involve examining how best to recognize and protect the right while also allowing legislatures leeway to develop criminologically sound measures designed to limit, in so far as possible, access to weapons on the part of career criminals and those who are mentally unstable.  Such a debate would involve recognizing that the right to have arms has been and remains part of the American Constitutional tradition, that it is valued by large segments of society and that the right sets real limits on governmental regulation.  It also involves recognizing that measures designed to keep weapons out of undesirable hands are not necessarily inconsistent with this right.  In the second half of the twentieth century, we were unable to develop this kind of debate on the national level precisely because of the effort to redefine the Second Amendment into meaninglessness, perhaps in the first half of the twenty-first century a greater willingness to recognize the Second Amendment will allow the dialogue to begin.

I am eager to begin this dialogue, in part because technological advances are a potential "magic bullet" solution here.  (Sorry for the bad pun.)  Society is moving swiftly toward using technology like GPS tracking to deal with the risks associated with sex offenders, and I am troubled that we are not also moving swiftly toward using technology to deal with the risks associated with the misuse of guns.

Godblessposter Interestingly, though apparently there was a lot of "smart gun" talk and research going on years ago, I have had a very hard time finding any up-to-date materials on modern smart gun technology research.  For example, the NRA has this fact sheet and this article by David Kopel assailing smart gun technologies, but the NRA fact sheet was last updated in January 2000, and the Kopel piece is from January 2003.  Disappointingly, this page from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has over a dozen research reports, but none appear to discuss concepts of a "smart gun" or other technology-driven research seeking to reduce gun violence.

Meanwhile, I found this interesting piece in Science Daily providing a positive view of smart gun technology, but it was written in 2005.  Of course, 2005 does not seem that long ago, but it certainly is in the fast-moving world of technology.  (Consider again the swift pace of GPS technology advances: in 2005, a car-friendly GPS device cost thousands of dollars, now such devices are available for under $100 and are becoming a standard feature in many vehicles.)

Gun_diversity Notably, I discovered that, in June 2001, the Bush Administration put out this very interesting document an "NIJ 'Smart Gun' Solicitation," which included this assertion: "NIJ is interested in bringing 'smart gun' technology to the law enforcement community as rapidly as possible, but in a manner that develops confidence in the technology through a clearly defined development, evaluation and demonstration process."  So, apparently seven years ago there was a serious commitment by the Bush administration to bring "smart gun technology to the law enforcement community as rapidly as possible."  Does anyone know how that's coming along these days?

In my view, techonology could and should provide a much more refined and effective way to regulate an individual right to bear arms than, say, completely prohibiting all felons from having guns.  An effective smart gun technology could and should be able to keep guns out of the hands of those who are unlikely to be able use guns safely — e.g., kids, illegal purchasers, those with a history of violence or mental illness, abusive spouses under an active restraining order — while ensuring that police officers and lawful gun owners have little reason to worry about their own gun rights and usage.

Ls_if_guns_kill_people_do_pencils_m Maybe I need a catchy slogan to get smart gun talk going again.  So here goes: "Smart guns don't kill people, dumb people using dumb guns kill people!"

Some related recent Second Amendment posts:

February 23, 2008 at 10:08 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Feb 25, 2008 8:08:59 PM


That's partially because nobody wants a smart gun, if by that you mean a gun with biometric identifiers so only you can shoot it. You want to be able to sell the thing or loan it to your wife, your son, or your buddy, or show it off to your boss at the gun range, without having to register every new user with the company.

For that matter, if you've never been part of it it's easy to underestimate the "gray market" aspect of gun ownership. Among the rural poor, some folks own guns for the same reason poor folks in the ghetto buy flashy jewelry - it stores value in a way that's very liquid for people who don't have a bank account. I had a friend who sold all his guns to pay for his wedding; another to pay of all things for his wife's political campaign! (That's the sign of a devoted husband.) That's an unspoken part of the attraction of owning multiple firearms, in some quarters, besides the fact that shooting guns (like wearing flashy jewelry) is fun.

Now GPS on your gun may be a good idea, b/c they're valuable and it would help you retrieve a stolen one. And there may be other technological solutions that the public would accept. But the "smart gun" concept was a bust among users, even among cops, is my understanding what happened to it. I'd forgotten that the Bush administration took such ownership of the idea; their base just didn't buy it.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 23, 2008 4:27:58 PM

Doug, as usual , you are stretching people to broaden perspectives and encouraging thought on possible solutions. What about a "crawl before you run" low tech approach? Remember Gary Holt, convicted of marijuana possession in the eighties, who wants to hunt? How about a limitation that says he keeps his shotgun at the Sheriff's office, when he wants to hunt, he checks it out with information on where he is going and when he'll be back. After hunting, he returns the gun to the Sheriff's office? Would anyone feel threatened by that? After five years, his permit to possess a hunting shotgun could be expanded to allow the gun to be stored at his house.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Feb 24, 2008 8:07:10 AM

There will never be a smart-gun technology that even a dumb-criminal cannot routinely disable. I don't care if you were able to shrink a GPS unit down to the size of a grain of rice. It can be quickly located and removed or disabled (heck placing the gun inside a metallic case for a quick crime-scene gettaway would also almost certainly defeat the GPS system). For the last time to all the anti-gunners out there "Its not the gun, its the criminal."

Posted by: David M. Bennett | Feb 26, 2008 9:35:45 AM

There are two major problems with "smart" gun technology. The first is that it doesn't work. The second is that no gun user wants it. The New Jersey smart gun law contains an exception for law enforcement, which the group most likely to be killed with their own guns.

Facing few sales to civilians and no sales to law enforcement, it's my guess that the effort to create these guns has quietly been abandoned.

Posted by: Willy | Feb 28, 2008 9:35:41 AM

Thats a very intereting system i have seen this year on the IWA show in Nurnberg, Germany.


They have implemented an interface wich allows the owner to change the mode of activation and disactivation of his gun (fingerprint, wristwatch, bluetooth,...). They said that there is also an "open" module available wich switches the smart gun to a normal working handgun.

Posted by: rascal | Mar 30, 2010 2:30:38 AM

Very Interesting!
Great Job!
Great Blog!
Thanks Guys!

Posted by: מוסך | Jan 6, 2011 6:37:07 AM

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