Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where Is The Technological Solution To Unauthorized Gun Use?

One of the reasons Americans are by nature optimistic is that they seem to believe that there is no problem on earth to which there is not at least one technological solution.

State politicians are now actively engaged in addressing the mass murder in Sandy Hook where, more than a month ago, a gunman fired upon school children, killing 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and some critics have attacked a few of the legislative solutions so far offered because they regard them as non-solutions.

Two state legislators, Representative Bob Godfrey and Senator Beth Bye, have written a bill that imposes a 50 percent tax on the total sale of ammunition,  a non-solution that struck a chord in the heart of Democratic Majority Leader Martin Looney, who observed,  A gun without ammunition is only a club. We really need to restrict access to ammunition.” But of course; and a car without gas is a stationary art piece. Wishing that every rifle in Connecticut were a club is a form of magic thinking that will do little to reduce gun crimes in the real world.

Mr. Looney, who has been leading gun control efforts in the Democratic dominated State Senate, recently has announced that a bill addressing the slaughter in Sandy Hook will bypass the usual public hearing process and be sent to the governor for his signature though an emergency certification process, a strategy that will obviate legislative oversight and leave no unsightly fingerprints on a final bill produced in General Assembly backrooms by legislative leaders. Too many fingerprints on legislation might imperil re-election efforts by removing vague assertions of approval. The Looney gambit can only succeed by enlisting the support of a governor armed with veto power.

It is one thing to know or think you know, and it is quite a different thing to know that you know. We should be modest about what we know concerning the events at Sandy Hook. So far, criminal investigators have released no definitive findings on the mass murder. After all the data has been presented, certified and sifted, all of us can begin seriously to ponder the problem and offer effective solutions. Until that time arrives, we are building our Looney castles on sand.

In proposing solutions that would in the view of Governor Dannel Malloy and others prevent future Sandy Hooks, we should first agree that the chief problem is the unauthorized use of guns; or, to put it in police terms, guns falling into the hands of criminals.

Pending a final report on Sandy Hook, there is some reason to believe that the shooter illicitly acquired the weapons he used at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If Adam Lanza’s mother had permitted her son’s use of her weapons to slaughter children at an elementary school, Mr. Lanza need not have murdered her.

We think we know that Mr. Lanza had at his disposal, two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun, which he may have left in the car he took from his mother, and a Bushmaster long gun, a semi-automatic capable of firing 30 rounds from a dischargeable magazine. According to one news report not yet verified by crime investigators, Mr. Lanza changed his magazines after firing 15 rounds.

Could there be a technological solution to gun crime? Is it possible to engineer solution to the unauthorized possession of weapons?

If the weapons Mr. Lanza acquired, presumably without the approval of his mother, had been inoperable, children’s lives might have been saved.  To put it in terms used by Mr. Looney: If the disarmed weapons used by Mr. Lanza were clubs, the slaughter might have been averted.

Present law requires weapons to be securely locked up and unavailable to unauthorized users. Suppose – just to suppose – that the gun safeties on most weapons were to be replaced by a lock operated by a fingerprint, swipe card, or biometric  system, the weapon rendered inoperable after purchase until activated by its owner each time it is used. That kind of technological solution to the problem of the unauthorized use of stolen weapons or illicitly acquired weapons – or some more practical method that would prevent any but an authorized user from discharging the weapon -- would be far more helpful in averting Sandy Hook mass murders than a tax on bullets, supposed by some to be a craven attempt to raise needed revenue that would not affect the illicit purchase of weapons or bullets.

Creating such a technological solution – not necessarily those suggested above-- that would render a firearm inoperable to anyone but an authorized purchaser ought to be a snap for a country that can put a rover on Mars. Where there is a will, there is a way; and where there is a demonstrable need, there is money to be made by some energetic and creative weapons manufacturer.

We already know that not every sociological or economic problem here in the land of Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Samuel Morse, Orville and Wilber Wright and Samuel Colt yields to legislation.

Sometimes it takes an engineer to carve a path out of the wilderness to a safe and secure future.


Jon Quint said...

This fingerprint technology has been looked at and is under development. However, like all technological "stuff" it tends to "not work" just when it is needed most. That also leaves the problem of what to do with all the "old" technology guns out there. I think it would be prohibitively expensive to retrofit existing guns and who would pay for it, and you would still have the problem of all the "old" guns out there in illegal hands. I'm all for it if it can be made to work, but it won't be easy!

Don Pesci said...


Right. There is no such thing as a perfect undeveloped technology. Need usually provides the push behind emergent technologies. See Biomatic here:

Not bad.

Anonymous said...

So, that would mean that only one person in a home could use a firearm? Considering that firearms are kept for many, many years, as your kids get older, they wouldn't be able to use them? Or, the rightful owner could authorize other users? Gee, then we would be right back where we are. The law-abiding people would have the restricted hard to use guns and the criminals would have access to the illegal firearms, perpetrating their terrorism, at the hand of our legislature and their technological knee jerk reaction to Newtown.

Don Pesci said...

Click on the “biometric” link in the text and you can read more about smart guns. I didn’t want to mention a specific smart gun designer in the blog, because it is also a column. The emergent technology allows as many as 11 users, and present weaponry can be retrofitted with the system. The idea is not to prevent a purchase but to prevent unauthorized use.
Here’s some of the info:

A U.S. and Austrian company whose system employs a biometric array of up to eight optical sensors which will be molded into the handle of the weapon[11]. None of the optical sensors will rely on geographic parameters, like fingerprints, but will measure biometric data below the skin. The biometric access technology which will be developed by BIOMAC BIOMAC will allow authorized gun owners to program the biometrics of up to eleven additional users into their weapon. All previous systems having been developed or which are being considered rely on one user per weapon. The biometric data programed into the weapon will be done at authorized weapon dealers, and will remain in the weapon. BIOMAC's goal of a 99.99 percent reliability rate with recognition occurring in .5 seconds or less, if reached, will be the fastest and most reliable smart gun technology on the market. BIOMAC envisions licensing all weapon companies their technology for a nominal cost. The retrofitting of existing weapons with BIOMAC's patent-pending technology will be done through the Biomac Foundation Biomac Foundation, with all profits from the retrofitting going to victims of global violence[12]. For military and police use the biometrics of soldiers and/or law enforcement will be printed on a wearable device, like a wrist band, which once worn will allow the soldier and/or any other police officer wearing the biometric wrist band to pick up any biometric weapon programed for their organization. The wrist bands will not be useable by anyone other person than the people they have been programed for. In this manner every soldier will be able to use any military weapon they may need to fire, and not have to have their individual biometrics programmed into the weapon.

The smart gun is supposed to:
• Reduce the likelihood of unintentional injuries to children
• Preventing teenage suicides and homicides.
• Limit the violent acts committed by criminals using stolen guns.
• Protect law enforcement officers from criminals grabbing their firearms during a struggle.
If chip failure occurs one of two things can happen:
• For civilian use, the gun will be set to not fire.
• For law enforcement use, the safety system will be bypassed, and the gun will be allowed to fire.

Jon Quint said...

This technology would not have stopped Newtown, because Mrs. Lanza took him to the range and taught him to use the guns used in the shooting, so apparently his finger prints would be "allowed" to use those guns.

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