"Smart guns" (sometimes called safe guns) were an idea invented by gun controllers to have a wedge issue to divide the nation: their side against informed gun owners. They sound good to the unaware, "we want to make guns safer", and duping them that gun safety is a real problem — and thus anyone that opposes them sounds unreasonable and extreme. Only the whole thing would be laughable, if it wasn’t so divisive:
- They do virtually nothing to improve the safety of guns (and quite the opposite for the user)
- No professional would consider using them, thus civilians have even less interest
- They solve non-problems, or problems that could be solved with much better solutions like gun accidents among kids, or cops having their guns turned against them
- They have a horrible history behind them, which really infuriates the informed
So they’re good politics, for dividing us, but the best thing you could say about them is "they’re just a lot of really bad ideas, by the sincere but uninformed folks trying to cure problems they know nothing about". The less kind, and more likely explanation, is that they’re a trojan horse meant to divide us for political gain, and undermine gun rights by fraudulent gun-hating extremists. Below is everything you need to know about the "smart gun" debate.
What is a smart gun?
There have been ideas about how technology can improve guns since authors wrote about the future (so probably back into the 1600’s). The latest round was created by gun control advocates in the 1990’s. But first, let’s clarify some definitions. There are smartguns and smart-guns (safe guns), which are completely different things:
- Smartguns (one word) was military efforts to make guns smarter for military applications; guns combined with electronics to allow longer range adjustments (correct for windage/drop/earths rotation making long-range sniper shooting easier), guided or exploding bullets (to cause shrapnel to go around corners), and fire control to reduce friendly fire incidents. Ways to use technology to make guns more effective in war. We’re not talking about any of those things.
- Smart guns (two words or hyphenated, or often called safe guns) are weapons designed by politicians who know nothing about guns, but want more "safety features" added to guns, to reduce things like nearly non-existent accidents, or the more infrequent cases where gun is fired by the non-authorized user, or other efforts to pretend to be helpin. We’ll be talking exclusively about the this second definition. Because that’s what the political discourse is about: politicians designing guns.
Gun controllers invented this canard that we needed an NTSB (Politically Controlled Gun Safety Advisory Board) to make guns less effective at shooting people, but more "safe", and they could help us, but reducing these non-problems from happening:
- reduce accidental shootings
- reduce suicides
- prevent a cop/others gun from being turned against them
- eliminates the value in cases of theft
None of these are statistically or logically valid arguments (I’ll break them down as we go), and the technologies wouldn’t help much, and make some things worse.
So how does it work?
The short answer, is it doesn’t. But here are the ideas offered:
- (A) biometrics (or password/identifier) — where a fingerprint, palm print, or other personal identifier is used to authorize the gun to fire
- (B) RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)– some short range proximity device (embedded in a ring, bracelet or watch) that would enable the gun to fire (thus if it is taken out of proximity (say 10+ inches), it can’t be used or used against the owner)
Thus both claim they can only be fired by the owner and no-one else, and thus they’re "safer". Each technology has it’s own mess of problems. After millions of dollars in research, biometrics was dropped, and RFID is the only semi-practical system we’re practically discussing for the next couple decades.
Guns are nearly useless closer than 21 feet
The first thing you need to know is the 21 foot rule. This rule is the widely accepted (and trained for) truth that if you’re under 21 feet away, a knife beats a gun (almost always). This is why people get shot carrying knives so often. It’s not that cops are trigger-happy, it’s that below this range it takes less than 1.5 second to cut and kill an officer. (As a Martial Arts instructor, I used to train cops and civilians with techniques at this range: attacks happen fast). Closer than 21 feet and it’s worse. And even at that range, we could have cops pre-aim their weapons, and still have a greater than 50/50 chance (knowing an attack was coming) at disarming them. This is the first-mover advantage. Here’s a video on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_KJ1R2PCMM
So understand that anything that slows a cop down, by a fraction of a second, results in more deaths (and increases the threat range).
(A) Biometrics or passwording were stupid
- They’re unreliable, with both false positives (allowing people that shouldn’t to be able to fire the gun) and false negatives (not allowing the right person to fire it).
- There’s reliability issues with dirt (fouling), batteries dying, simplicity (added steps/training in combat situations)
- There’s problems in off-hand firing, firing with injuries, and versatility
- Most of all, they have a lag before use, which means causes deaths
The 21 foot rule is scary enough for cops as it is, but imagine you have to train them to swipe a finger across a gun before drawing (listening for a beep/acknowledgment), and then maybe doing it again if it didn’t work, in a combat situation? Even 1 extra second means their threat radius is now anyone within 36′ can take them out before they can draw their weapon (assuming 100% reliability of the biometric system): if it takes two swipes to work, that’s now 60 feet.
If you tried to deploy these, then all cops would "prime" the weapon (meaning pre-scan/unlock them, and pre-draw them) in situations they could predict. Which still leads to more officer deaths in spontaneous events they failed to predict. But even in cases of priming they’re defeating their own safety mechanism: they can now be fired by the other person, since they’re already unlocked. And cops pre-drawing and pre-unlocking guns, is very unnecessarily intimidating. Technically, it’s a crime for civilians to pre-draw a weapon without their being an active threat, so you’d have to change laws to allow cops to do this, just to be safe; which would increase accidents and escalation. Which is why no cops would use these things — and if cops, military and professionals won’t use them, then civilians will have no interest in it either. Which is why after millions of dollars of research, these were dropped completely.
(B) RFID (Radio Frequency ID systems) are just slightly less stupid than biometrics
This idea is that you have a ring or bracelet (watch), that has to be within a few inches of the device for it to work. Except think about it. Most shootings with a cops gun are when both are wrestling with the gun and at very close range. So if these kinds of shootings were a real problem, 9 out of 10 would still be a problem with this system, because the cops hand is still likely to be too close (and thus the gun is "hot"). There’s no practical safety increase, in most situations.
The other side is cops and civilians train shooting off hand (with your other hand) in case you’re injured. But if one hand is injured and by your side, and it has the watch or ring, you can’t shoot offhand. These are rare cases, but more common than cops getting shot with their own gun. So you end up with a case, where you’re protecting against a more rare incident, by making things worse in a less rare case.
How many cops were shot with their own guns per year? The gun controllers will say there were 33 cops shot with their own guns, then in the fine print, say, "per decade", so about 3 a year. 247 people a year win over $1M the lottery in the United States. 50 cop are killed every year in traffic accidents. After Obama/Holder/Jackson sensationalized Ferguson, 15 cops were killed in ambush attacks, that year alone. Go through a list of fallen cops and try to find one that was shot with their own weapon. This is an extremely rare problem, that can better be fixed by training and having backup officers than by politicizing their weapons.
But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that it did work perfectly. It would take motivated thugs a couple hours max to figure out that a jammer to defeat this: thus giving criminals a free ride. They walk up a cop with a jammer on, he doesn’t know it, and when he draws his gun, you stab/club or shoot the shit out of him while he’s looking at his gun wondering why it isn’t working. The only reason this tech is the slightest bit effective is called "security through obscurity": no one knows it exists, so it’s adapting to it. Once it beyond popular, so will defeating it: and they’re easily defeatable. Congratulations, gun-controlled just made the cops job MORE dangerous by increasing their vulnerability, and allowing remote and covert deactivation of their guns. No cop or military person is going to adopt these technologies, and intelligent ones will quit if you try to force them to. Thus no intelligent civilian is going to want to adopt them either. Why should anyone be forced to endanger their lives with such bad ideas?
What about thefts, suicides and accidents?
As for theft, any locksmith will explain that all a lock can do is delay entry. No lock can stop someone motivated. I picked locks as a kid. Guns aren’t very complex mechanically (that’s why they’re reliable). I can make most guns fully automatic in about 15 minutes with a file — and that’s defeating a trigger limiting mechanism far more complex than a safety (or these things would be). So even if you honestly thought you could replace 100% of the guns in the U.S. with these things, it would create a profitable black market for modifiers to fix (disable the validation) on stolen weapons. You’re more likely to make these guns a badge of honor on the street (carrying a cracked gun) and part of gang initiation than you are to slow thefts.
Suicides is even worse argument. We know that guns don’t impact suicide rates, otherwise Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Denmark (Happiest place on earth), Belgium, Iceland, France, with their strict gun control, would all have lower suicide rates than the U.S.: they all have higher ones. Suicide success rates have not gone down when countries enacted gun control or confiscation (Australia’s went up after they confiscated guns), people just chose other means, with many of them being more dangerous to the public (jumping off buildings, or in front of busses and off overpasses). Suicides are by the owners of the weapons (or another adult in the house), and adults and teens will have access to both the weapon and the interlock device. The only thing you could hope to help with is the rate of suicides by kids younger than 10. Suicides at this age are so rare, the CDC doesn’t track them at all, let alone by kind — there are only about 450 cases in the 10-14 range (most of them at the top end of the range), but almost none of those could be stopped by these mechanisms. And even if you could block all of them from using a gun, there’s no evidence they wouldn’t go to MORE effective means (guns success rates are below jumping in front of trains for success rates, as an example — which is especially popular in Europe and Japan, where gun control is high). Thus this technology helping suicide rates is an inane argument.
Accidents are virtually a non-problem. I’ll give you that something like this might help for kids under 10 years of age: that’s about 20 kids per year with guns. 500-600 per year including all age groups, but we know that’s an over-reported statistic (sometimes people who commit suicide are listed as "accident" to avoid the stigma or for insurance collection). Most of the adult accidents are mishandling by owners or hunting accidents, so aren’t going to be stopped by having a ring/watch defeat mechanism, thus we’ll focus on the only area "safe guns" might help — the 20 kids lost. Kids are over 10x more likely to have their parents win the lottery than shoot someone accidentally with a gun (seriously). Out of a few hundred million guns that’s an astronomically low rate. And we could more cheaply/effectively lower that number if we returned gun safety training to schools. To give you scale: dogs kill 30 people, bees get 60, peanuts get around 100 people, 3,500 drownings per year, texting is about 6,000 and 33,000 die to auto accidents, and 39,000 due to poisonings! Auto-erotic asphyxiation regularly kills about 1,000 people, so hanging yourself while masturbating is a more serious threat to human life (and your teenagers) than gun accidents (it got David Carradine). So out of 125,000 total accidental fatalities per year, <0.5% are gun related to begin with. If you want to save lives, prescription drugs and cleaners are nearly 2,000 times more likely to kill your kid than a gun. So the informed realize how absurd the "it’s for the children" safety claims are.
History (omitted context)
The efforts started in the 80’s with the Brady Bill. After Reagan shooting, gun controllers were looking for ways to keep adding restrictions on gun ownership, and they figured out that "smart guns" would be a way to do this. And they pushed for an assessment on the technology (from 1994-2004) that resulted in a report, that concluded they needed at least another $30M and decade before this stuff could be brought to market. Even then, it admitted that it wouldn’t be at all effective in stopping owner instigated shootings (accidents or suicides) or illicit markets — the only thing they could hope to address was the 3 cases per year where an officer gets shot by their own gun (assuming you could get officers to adopt the things, and accept the hundreds more deaths caused by the failure of the technology):
It was not the industry and customers that were demanding it, or this would have happened decades ago. In 2000, since Bill Clinton had no more political capital left, he and Andrew Cuomo (a known gun-hater) proposed legislation that would completely regulate the industry on "gun safety" and design standards (locking devices and magazine sizes), and limits on the sales and distribution of firearms — all controlled by an unconstitutional five-member oversight commission. (Non-deligation doctrine in the Constitution and the 10th Amendment were both written to limit congress from handing over authority to unaccountable non-elected agencies). Smith & Wesson voluntarily jumped on board to see if politics could help get the government "off their back". And of course gun controller let slip their true agenda, when in New Jersey they passed a law that said as soon as "smart guns" were available, all other guns would be outlawed for sale (called "the mandate"). Gun buyers were so mad at S&W for betraying them, that their sales fell in 2000, by 40%, and didn’t recover for 5 years (until after being acquired by another company). Factories closed, employees were laid off, and after that, no big U.S. gunmaker ever went near a smart gun. (It’s been done by smaller companies getting government subsidies for a gun that nobody wants to buy).
This tech was made available in the real world with a gun called the Armatix iP1 (among others). The gun didn’t sell, and in fact, consumers were so mad at the New Jersey ban, that they boycotted stores that carried it. And they were attacking Colt or Smith&Wesson for even looking into developing them. So no one carried it. The spin-off company that created the first ones went bankrupt within a year. And this is the problem, even if we could prove that safe guns could save lives, the gun owners and advocates don’t want them, because they don’t trust the gun controllers who want to push them on them. Not deterred by the failures or common sense, Cuomo and others, go on to try to expand restrictions that don’t work, under the canard of "safety", and that hardens the gun advocates against the hucksters using "safety" as camouflage for fascism.
After 30,000 gun laws, and 90,000 lies that went into passing them, the gun advocates don’t trust anything the gun-controllers offer and will actively resist and fight, for good reasons. It was shown that magazine limits make no difference, so gun controllers push them. The assault weapons ban they got through in the early 90’s did absolutely nothing to decrease shootings or mass shootings (and might have made things worse). Less than 0.7% of guns used by criminals are gotten through, "gun show loopholes" or "internet loopholes" that the President prattles on about. And so on. The gun advocates know that the goal is not to save lives from crazies, but to eliminate tools from law abiding citizens. So even trying, is worse than a waste of time, gun sales go up every time the President talks about "improving gun safety", and will, until Gun Controllers first learn about guns, gun safety and what might actually work. But if they did that, they often switch sides in the argument — so that can’t happen.
Thus, ideas like "safe guns" are popularized in movies, and parroted by propagandists in the media, despite their proven ineffectiveness — and that’s self defeating since it makes the informed dig in and resist even harder. (It proves everything they suspect about the disingenuousness of the other side). Here are examples of one-sided disinfromation on the topic, with arguments that have all been long discredited:
Smart guns aren’t a good idea in any dimension: they require expensive and fragile additions to a gun, that do nothing to make it a more effective tool. They aren’t something consumers actually want, the problems they promise to address aren’t real problems (in any scale), and they’re pushed by groups that do not want to increase gun adoption rates (so we know they’re insincere to begin with). They don’t help with gun safety, suicides, or accidents (over much easier and more effective methods). And those who are the biggest advocates, despise guns and would be happier with a gun ban and confiscation: thus gun-owners not only don’t trust them, but actively distrust anything they propose.
Think about it, what do you think is more likely (a) that gun controllers want to make guns safer so their adoption of them goes up (b) that they’re using tech as an excuse to drive up the cost (and thus down the availability) of guns, and as an excuse to register and ban millions of "non-safe" guns (force replacement), and to try to stress the difference between the two (imply that regular guns are not safe)? If you buy (a) and not (b) then I have a bridge to sell you. No gun advocate, or person that’s looked at the issue buys the sincerity of the gun-controllers based on the facts and history. Thus the louder the gun-controllers scream for smart guns, the more harm they do to the adoption of the technology: for the same reason NAMBLA would not make good spokespeople for child advocacy.
For now, and the foreseeable future, no professional would use one of these safe gun systems. Billions could be poured into R&D and it wouldn’t change that. Obama and other advocates could lead by example by demanding all their body guards only use these systems for self-defense. But there’s a reason they don’t: their body guards would quit in mass, as would most cops if they were forced to use these things. "Smarts" in a gun, makes it more reliable as a club or brass knuckles than as a gun.
I liken these ideas to regulations mandating people buy armored trucks that get 9 MPG, and can only go 45 MPH — think of the safety. They’re bulletproof, near crash proof, and people would drive so much less that they’d be much safer, right? But there’s a reason people don’t want them, and would fight a regulation requiring them, and it’s the same reason gun advocates don’t want smart guns: it’s not really better in 99% of the cases you want a gun for.
With there being no rational argument that this is a big public safety issue for civilians or cops (and they are a solution created by gun-haters, to make gun advocates hate their guns as much as they do), you need to ask why this idea is pushed so hard by gun-hating Democrats? The answer is because they get to waste money, and polarize all the red-staters against them, and then use that reaction (to their bad policies) for fundraising and as proof of the extremism of the other side. So the politicians love it, and the gullible don’t know better. Anyone that’s read about the topic knows, the true agenda is to drive up the price (from $500 to $1,800) and thus reduce availability of guns for defense, and to use "safety" as a canard to require mass replacement and registration, in order to restrict availability. Gun rights folks understand this, and gun-controllers come in the willfully or cluelessly ignorant of the context behind this. But if you hate a tool (guns), then reason isn’t going to persuade you — and if they could learn (were teachable), they wouldn’t be gun-controllers in the first place.