By Sam Hoober
Soon to debut at SHOT Show 2022 – which is being held again despite some big brands skipping the festivities – is a new generation of “smart guns,” which means the usual sturm and drang about their adoption.
The mainstream press loves the idea – see recent articles in Reuters, Gizmodo, and others – and so do anti-gun legislators in anti-gun states, such as the state of New Jersey. New Jersey passed a law in 2002 requiring all handguns sold in that state to have “smart gun” technology as soon as the technology is feasible for use. The law was repealed and replaced with a handgun roster.
It’s bad enough that they gave us Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, but they had to try that too.
The usual talking points here has to do with government overreach, expense of the new smart guns and so on. Granted, it’s totally valid; the new crop of “smart guns” covered in recent news articles would have an MSRP from $900 to over $2,000 for a simple 9mm handgun.
However, what we are going to suggest here is that smart guns are, by this point, mostly useless. There’s basically no point, and for a bevy of reasons.
First, there’s the issue that they aren’t going to prevent the most common form of firearm-related death in the United States, which is of course suicide. A person who’s determined to kill themselves by firearm typically uses a gun they own to do it, and smart technology like an RFID chip or a fingerprint isn’t what’s going to dissuade them from it.
Second, we have the issue of homicides and black market sales.
At the moment, there’s such a large inventory of black market firearms that it’s going to take decades to get the supply out of criminal hands, and that’s assuming it ever happens at all. Bear in mind, too, that national adoption of smart guns is unlikely to happen; it would almost certainly be limited to certain states, and the hitch there is that there are known pipelines of blackmarket guns into antigun states.
In other words, it’s not really going to affect the ability of criminals to get their hands on firearms if they are determined to get them. And as we know, organized crime and suicides make up the vast majority of deaths by gunshot wounds.
But that’s just dealing with the realities of the gun supply in the United States, which isn’t new or really even news. What isn’t being considered is the technological workarounds that make smart guns almost a nonstarter.
First is the technology that enables “smart guns” to work. At this point, the two most common technologies are either RFID or biometric security systems.
RFID uses a passive radio frequency reader to enable a circuit, which activates the gun (so long as it has batteries!) and allows it to function. The authorized user would need a ring or a bracelet in order to use it.
Biometric is what you think it is; a fingerprint scan that the gun takes and stores in digital memory and only allows use for authorized users. If a different finger or palm print is detected, it locks.
Of course, this does allow for the intriguing prospect of the potential future existence of the Lawgiver from “Judge Dredd”…
…but one digresses.
No, the real issue here is that it isn’t really your fingerprint that unlocks the gun or the biometric gun safe or your cell phone. Your fingerprint is scanned, which is converted into bunch of ones and zeroes as code and – just like entering a password – the correct code allows a different subroutine to be activated.
In other words it’s a program that unlocks a biometric smart gun, and the thing about programs is that they are susceptible to hacking. Does that include biometric security?
Yes. It does. And the more secure any encryption technology, the more complicated and expensive it is to implement. But any small, compact system is going to be relatively simple…
…and therefore easy to defeat.
Then we have the issue of ghost guns, and they are being used already to commit crimes. Criminals are literally manufacturing their own supply already.
Let’s say that “smart guns” are at the precipice of being practical enough for the common person or police department to use. Given the climate that they are coming into fruition in they’re all but dead on arrival.
But that’s probably not going to stop a few states from trying.
Sam Hoober is a hunter and shooter based in the Inland Northwest.