Can “Smart Guns” Help?

February 19th, 2014 at 8:57 am

I don’t like to stray too far from my econo-lane, but I’ve long wondered whether a “smart gun” could be developed that could help minimize mass shootings in public places.  The idea would be to require chips in weapons that would essentially shut the firearm off in say, schools or movie theaters.

Putting aside the horrific politics for a second, I’ve been told such technology is many years off.  Yet, I read in my morning paper that (my bold):

A variety of approaches are in development. Armatix, the German company behind the iP1, uses RFID chips, which can be found on anti-theft tags attached to expensive clothing. Trigger­Smart, an Irish company, also uses RFID chips, though with a ring instead of a watch. The company also has technology that would render guns inoperable if they approached electronic markers — for instance, near a school.

Yes, the NRA will oppose anything and everything and post-Sandy Hook, I don’t know how to break their stranglehold.  But hard to imagine most people, including gun owners, opposing this use of technology.

Since we’re talking about guns, I heard this story on NPR last night about what sounded like some careful research on the impact of a 2007 Missouri law that repealed background checks.  Post repeal, firearm homicide rates increased by 23 percent over a three year period, an increase of 60 murders per year.

The researchers controlled for a bunch of stuff to try to isolate the impact of the law change, and it’s also notable that trends in neighboring states went in the other direction.

Anyway, I can’t imagine facts, careful research, or even technology will move this benighted debate.  It’s not even a debate, really.

OK, back to cheerful econ.

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10 comments in reply to "Can “Smart Guns” Help?"

  1. Dave says:

    Yes, please don’t get us started down this road. It is depressing. I could see this technology being very feasible and almost tamper-proof if done properly. I’d suggest something much more than an electro-mechanical approach to disabling the gun, but rather to look for a solid-state solution built into a vital component of the gun — the barrel or the firing pin. Anything can be tampered with, but this is a statistical game, and most insane people wouldn’t bother as long as tampering was difficult.

    Politically it would never work. The NRA would put out a report claiming that the NSA is monitoring your gun usage, and when the coming massive internment eventually happens, the NSA will disable all of the guns! The government will be controlling and monitoring your gun usage! I’m just saying, this is what the NRA will say.


  2. Drew says:

    (1) There are already tens of millions of guns in private hands without chips.

    (2) You know there’s a job called “gunsmith”, right? These are people who can disassemble a gun into its individual components and modify or replace any component they want. Chipped guns means you’ve just created a huge market for replacement bits without chips.

    This could work in some countries, but not the States. Way too easy to get around.


  3. Horvendile says:

    It can’t possibly work. There are already hundreds of millions of guns out there that don’t have the chips and that’s what people will use. Guns last a long time, they aren’t like cars that are essentially replaced in about 10 years. And it can be misused. People would turn off other people’s guns but not their own.


  4. Bill Thacker says:

    If you think of Smart Gun technology as ways to keep guns from firing, well yes, that’s easy.

    But those of us who own guns for lawful purposes don’t buy them so they won’t fire. We want them to be reliable when we need them, especially in an emergency.

    We don’t want to discover we’re holding an inert lump of steel because when home invaders crashed through our doors, we forgot to put on our RFID rings. Or because or the battery in the gun is dead. Or because the electronic marker at the nearby school is broadcasting a bit too strongly today, even though our home isn’t inside the gun-exclusion zone. We aren’t willing to trust our lives to technology that’s yet to be proved, implemented by the people who brought us the healthcare.gov debacle.

    When the military and police adopt smart guns on a widespread basis, then they’ll be reliable enough that I’ll trust my life to one. Then come up with a way to make the criminals surrender all their old guns, while respecting my Constitutional rights and without making guns too expensive for citizens to afford them, and I’ll consider supporting a law requiring Smart Guns. Show me, in other words, that this isn’t just an attempt to harass and deter people who want to exercise a Constitutional right.


    • Dave says:

      If the majority of gun owners are as reasonable as this, then it will be achievable. Would you be willing to buck the NRA if they were spreading disinformation to fool people that are as reasonable about it is you are? If so, then I see nothing wrong with this point of view.


  5. wendy beck says:

    You need not be cheerful for my sake. The times don’t call for it. Like many others here, I think it’s more feasible to change a chip in our brains than to change something about guns that will not be reversible.

    Maybe one day we’ll get a Supreme Court that will re-interpret the second amendment correctly (IMHO) or a Congress that will amend the constitution and bring us into the developed world. But not before we kill lots more of ourselves We have seen the terrorists and they are us, alas.


  6. rjs says:

    “hard to imagine most people, including gun owners, opposing this use of technology”

    not my experience; even the most rational people get very visceral when it’s suggested that their guns be tampered with..


  7. Mark Jamison says:

    What technology giveth…
    If we developed smart gun technology and;
    If we had the political will to actually get something passed;
    Then our next hurdle would be controlling 3D printing technology which is already being used to make plastic gun parts.
    The problem is a cultural and social one. As long as there are people who walk around with the delusion that their guns will keep them safe from the government, as long as there is a significant part of the society that believes they are safer with a gun than without one, that the logic behind the thinking of a well armed society doesn’t lead to a Hobbesian nightmare, than we are fighting a losing battle. Ultimately defeating the gun culture is a matter of creating cultural and societal norms that do not accept the underlying premises of the gun culture.
    It’s the same calculation with much of the economics of inequality, we have to have the sort of norms and memes that value and equitable society (which means valuing people). Not to say we shouldn’t continue to try on both fronts. The continued effort towards a fairer society which may include political attempts to regulate is also the effort that’s needed to change minds and hearts.


  8. Larry Signor says:

    RFID chips…this is how depressing and un-winnable the idea of gun responsibility has become. What is a serious and solvable problem has become a stage for science fiction. No amount of data or research will penetrate the wall of patriots willing to let our children die for some anachronistic idea of safety or justice.


    • Nick Batzdorf says:

      I’m in favor of “smart brains” – a chip in the brain of anyone who would even want to own a ∆&$*&$!!! gun.


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