Smart Guns Are Back

Now we’re going to be dealing with this stupid argument again. I’ve been listening to this crap since the 1990s. It didn’t work then, and now in the days of iPhones and Androids, and pocket other pocket supercomputing, it still doesn’t work. Why? Because anyone in IT knows biometric security isn’t reliable enough to use on firearms. I might also have legitimate reasons why I might want to hand my firearm off to someone else in the unfortunate event things go pear shaped in a hurry. We also want guns to go bang when we pull the trigger. Even if it fails one time out of one-hundred, the reliability isn’t even good enough. We don’t want a gun that won’t function with dead batteries.

This issue will continue to be bullshit until you see police willingly choosing these types of firearms. As it is, they are exempted in the one state that has a smart gun law, New Jersey. This is basically just a nerd’s argument for trigger locks. It plays well to the educated technophiles, who really know nothing about the topic.

30 thoughts on “Smart Guns Are Back”

  1. It plays well to the educated technophiles….

    Only if they want to be fooled. Everybody, including my late ’70s parents, knows about rebooting recalcitrant firmware (even if they don’t know the term).

    In fact, it’s been postulated that the quality of firmware outside of critical domains has gone down in part because we’ve trained ourselves so well to reboot it….

  2. Why do I have this suspicion that some “inventor” is pushing his patented product so as to capture the market. We’ve seen that in some ways with the campaign for microstamping. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see it here.

    A campaign contribution here, a campaign contribution there, a donation to Brady….you get the picture.

    1. The funny thing is, if you stop to think about it, you can quickly realize that this proposal would be easily defeated–just like microstamping. Admittedly, it would be more difficult than taking a file to the firing pin…but guns aren’t all that complicated, mechanically, so it wouldn’t take a determined criminal all that much effort to open up the gun, remove the electronic bits that annoy them, and then have a fully-working firearm that won’t be stopped by silly electronics!

  3. This would also jack up the price of all guns, since presumably smart tech isn’t cheap.

    Why do they hate poor people?

    1. Indeed, but this has been true since forever. As I recall, back to the post-Reconstruction South, and of course that’s in part what the campaign against “Saturday Night Specials” (SNS) as well as military surplus was all about. And which was addressed in the CGA of ’68, although the frothing about SNS went on for quite some time after it during the ’70s heydays of gun control.

  4. The New Jersey law needs to be brought out as a case-in-point for “reasonable” gun control.

    The original bill was proposed as a means to keep criminals from taking and using officers’ weapons. Let me say that again: The original bill was intended solely for police weapons.

    Read that paragraph again. Twice. Let it sink in.

    Understandably, no police organization would support sending their officers out on patrol with technologically-questionable and potentially-unreliable firearms. So, to garner support from law-enforcement groups, the police exemption was written … into the law intended for police weapons.

    If a “smart gun” ever hits the market, NJ gun owners have two or three years (I don’t remember which) to trade in or upgrade their guns, or become instant felons. This in a state where gun ownership itself is handled as an exception to the law.

    This really needs to be shouted from the rooftops every time this issue comes up.

  5. No kidding.

    (Of course, I’ve been recently shouting from the rooftops that anything suitable for the police to use for self-defense should be suitable for private citizens under Peelian Principles, but hey…)

  6. I remember hearing about Smart Guns back in the 80’s, when they where trying to push them onto law enforcement, so that perp’s couldn’t steal a cop’s gun and use it against them….

    ….if Smart Guns are so great, then how come police don’t want them?

  7. This could actually make mass shootings worse. Imagine a gun-free-zone field that disabled everyone’s guns, but a mass shooter enters with a rooted gun that still works. Horror ensues.

    That’s to say nothing of the absolutely massive stock of traditional firearms. At the rate people are buying firearms, it would take 25 years for the number electronic guns to even equal the current number of traditional ones.

    1. Add to that the possibility of a criminal figuring out how to disable all the guns around him in a thirty-yard radius…and it’s easy to imagine police officers, and even upstanding citizens, showing up at a school, with no ability to stop the attacker, because the attacker didn’t even bother with a rooted gun–just one of those old-fashioned rootless guns!

  8. I can see some advantages to technology like this, but what bugs me is BS like this from the story, “he believes his company’s technology would have helped prevent the Newtown massacre.”

    Firearm’s are incredibly simple, the trigger mechanisms especially are little more than a couple levers and a couple pivots. There’s nothing in any of these technologies that couldn’t be defeated with a drop of super glue to hold mechanical lockouts open, or a soldering iron and either a resister to pull voltage down or a wire creating a short to apply voltage.

  9. I’ll be happy to consider a smart gun just as soon as they become reliable enough that police and military start using them. Though I suspect that any legislation would exempt them.

  10. I have a friend who has a biometric lock on her laptop. I’d say about 1/3 of the times I’ve seen her log in she has to re-swipe her finger.

    Now, if that one time out of three that you want to squeeze off a round and can’t is at the range, it’s an annoyance. If that one time out of three is when somebody’s crawling in through your bedroom window, you’re likely to be one more addition to the gun-grabbers list of cases where private ownership of guns doesn’t prevent crime.

  11. Nothing too “smart” about how the guy in the article is pretending to shoot that pistol. lol

  12. As I said to a friends wife (Microsoft Engineer) who commented on Facebook that we need a technological solution that automatically disarms guns to prevent them from firing in schools and other places – what technology exists that keeps a spring from pushing a piece of metal forward?

    1. As an engineer, I can tell you that no such thing can be made reliably, and any such technology can be easily bypassed and disabled.

  13. As a NJ resident, I just hope no one in the industry is putting any real effort towards R&D on this. Bill Ruger went turncoat to help his bottom line in the 90’s. I find it uncomfortably plausible that another manufacturer might support something similar of they thought they could be first to enter a captive market. Almighty dollar trumps ideals all to often.

    1. It’s an extremely difficult problem and the expertise needed to try to solve it has nothing to do with what gun manufacturers are competent at. And it’s got to be a liability nightmare.

      Heck, didn’t one of the companies that came up with an integral lock, just a simple lock with a key, have problems with recoil or other general stuff in the field causing the lock to disable the gun?

      So, maybe if someone came up with a really good solution someday we might see a partnership, but otherwise I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

      Side note: Ayoob a long time ago recommended something slightly similar for those really concerned about weapons retention, the Magna-Trigger, but it’s a simple magnetic ring you wear that within one inch engages custom stuff that can be put in the grip of some revolvers. But this is obviously only a weapons retention trick, no special or unique keying, and something so simple it can be reasonably reliable.

  14. What about the 300+ million odd “dumb guns” out there? There’s only so much room inside a grip or receiver and typically, very little left over. How does one retrofit smart stuff onto a bolt action rifle?

    I explained this to a colleague who asked the same question. Despite being magnificent examples of simple machines, firearms are physics wonders. The shock forces involved in a gun firing are immense. This is why steel breaks in even well-built guns. Fiberglass circuit boards, delicate SMB components and solder doesn’t stand a prayer.

    And liability? How many accident lawyers would salivate over the prospect of suing a smart gun maker the moment a gun goes “click” and someone dies because the gun didn’t recognize them at that moment? Unless the system is purely mechanical, proving software is reliable is a daunting, daunting task. Even at 1 in 100, every gun maker is out of business and the PLCA wouldn’t protect the companies as it would a design defect.

    1. Fiberglass circuit boards, delicate SMB components and solder doesn’t stand a prayer.

      While I’m in general agreement with your points, the above statement ignores, for example, all that we’ve done with proximity fuzes starting in WWII; back then they were sized for 5 inch shells and above, as of the DIVAD debacle they were reliable in 35 mm anti-aircraft rounds. One of the reasons the procurement failed was that proximity hits by the General Dynamics system using standard 35 mm rounds were scored as failures, the Ford’s 40 mm proximity hits were scored as valid. Particularly bogus due to the minor detail that the Ford system never ever actually hit the targets.

      For a final bit of trivia, a totally abusive prosecution (the prosecution team had no government contracting experts, the judge wouldn’t let them dismiss the case unless with prejudice and the government appoligized), part of the total nuclear war the Democrats unleashed against the Reagan Administration, used the successful General Dynamics DIVAD project to indict the NASA Administrator, who had to take a leave of absence a couple of months before the Challenger disaster. He says, knowing it’s 20/20 hindsight, that he wouldn’t have OKed the launch. All we can say is that it couldn’t have helped to disrupt NASA management just before a launch….

      Anyway, for a more realistic example, look at the cutaway and internal pictures of this mortar proximity fuze. Although I’ll grant that’s it’s OK to have small failure rates in fuzes, not so in self-defense guns.

      1. Not only is it (arguably) acceptable to have a small failure rate in a fuze, each fuze only has to survive one indirect explosive shock when fired. How many of those proximity fuzes would have their electronic components fail if they were exposed to the repeated indirect explosive shock that any internal component on a firearm is?

        1. Erk, I should have thought about that.

          Can any of us come up with examples that fit the bill? The standard issue AN/PVS-14 night vision monocular is rated for attachment to stuff shooting 5.56 NATO but no more, but it’s got big electro-optical things and that’s not a high recoil cartridge.

          1. And those break too. Recoil shocks kill scopes too and they’re not in the direct path of where the smart gun stuff needs to be effective in the trigger group or firing mechanism. The AN/PVS-14 for similar equivalents on the open market is $3000 and there is room inside for things like rubber shock mounts, board coatings, etc.

            Not saying miniaturization doesn’t work. Just hard to get it to work well over time. As AndyN says, getting it to work once or for a short period of time reliably is one thing. Do it over and over again for hundreds or thousands of times, becomes hard.

      2. Sorry Harold, I wasn’t trying to overwhelm folks with the technical minutiae. It is certainly possible to engineer electronic systems to withstand such forces but requires a lot of work and cost to pull off.

        Trying to squeeze such a system into the space offered in a typical firearm gets into the very expensive realm. If it is driven with software for real “smartness” instead of discrete components (i.e. people getting too clever for their own good and having a gun recognize multiple valid users or allowable location), the failure probability goes sky-high. Saying software is reliable versus proving it beyond a few lines of code gets difficult and expensive fast.

        Hand that to a lawyer and asking an engineer to prove reliability in a wrongful death case and it is a wonder any manufacturer would go near it short of nanotechnology that doesn’t exist. Anyone proposing such schemes are techies looking to solve an interesting problem in the narrow without understanding the implications in the large and looking to profit, do good by society, etc. Not an uncommon trait in the nerd community.

        Too many people thinking science-fiction is real in movies or Scalzi’s Old Man’s War technology is living in a lab somewhere.

        And as I said, doesn’t address the problem of how I fit a smart gun system to a Mosin-Nagant without destroying the rifle’s value through modification or fitting some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption to it. If a screwdriver is needed to put it on, a screwdriver can take it off.

        1. There’s also the battery problem. As many are realizing in this smartphone world, there’s no Moore’s Law for them. Sure, e.g. ARM 32 bit CPUs are getting very small if you want to go general purpose and then there’s $$$ ASICs and microcontrollers, but all of them need juice.

          Fuzes have it much easier; don’t know about the modern ones, but after having problems with the longevity of dry batteries in the field a “reserve battery” for WWII proximity fuzes was developed using a very cute one shot trick that won’t work here: upon firing, a glass ampule of electrolyte would break, and the spin induced by rifling would force it into battery plates around the circumference of the fuze.

          (I love technical minutiae, at least if I can explain it so the layman can understand it (I hope!), maybe even appreciate it when it’s cool like this trick. One reason guns are cool as mechanical artifacts.)

          1. That’s nifty on the proximity fuses. Always knew how they worked but never gave much thought to how they were powered. Too easy to assume they were passive devices.

            Imagine if the antis latched onto the idea of a “smart bullet” (they have in the past) that could only be fired at authorized targets or travel so far before self-destructing with such a mechanism? No more ridiculous than the Chris Rock approach to ammunition control. The military is still trying to perfect GPS guided 155mm artillery rounds. Small arms are the same problem, writ large.

  15. There was a story out about this not long after the shooting in Newtown. The quote below emphasized to me that the gun control industry isnt really interested in safer guns, just no guns.;_ylt=A2KJ3CadSuxQ.W4A01vQtDMD

    Some gun control advocates, such as Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center based ion Washington, say smart guns are a sideshow that distracts from the more pressing issue of limiting the firepower of guns that can be legally sold.”

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