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Electromagnetic Pulse and Smart Guns:

I blogged about this nearly six years ago, but I thought I'd mention it again, especially since I have to decide whether to mention this in my forthcoming article on how courts should implement the right to bear arms. I'd love to hear what people thought about this subject more generally, but in particular it would be useful for me to know: Do you think that a law review article section on the right to bear arms and "smart guns" mandates should mention these risks? Or are they the sorts of risks that are too low or too uncertain to consider in such analyses?

Assume that smart gun technology does really develop to the point where, setting aside the risk of electromagnetic pulse, a smart gun is roughly as reliable and as costly as a comparable purely mechanical gun. Also, let's focus solely on the right to keep and bear arms in self-defense, and set aside the right to keep and bear arms as a possible deterrence to government tyranny; to make my article manageable, I am focusing solely on the self-defense side (and even so I'm at over 80 pages).

In any case, here's the issue:

1. A high-altitude nuclear detonation can generate an electromagnetic pulse that will basically destroy unshielded electronic circuitry in line of sight — potentially over hundreds of thousands of square miles. There has also been talk of e-bombs, which are nonnuclear devices that could create an EMP over a much smaller area.

This, it turns out, is one of the little-known twists in the debate about "smart guns." Smart guns, in theory, would only be usable by their authorized owner. This would be done using some technology, likely chip-driven technology — possibly some radio transponder that reacts to a special ring that the owner wears, or possibly even fingerprint recognition (though that would have been mighty quick and reliable).

I don't support laws that mandate smart guns, chiefly because there's no reason to think that such guns will be reliable enough any time soon. But I certainly see the advantage of such guns, as a means of preventing the 100 or so fatal gun accidents and the greater number of nonfatal gun accidents involving kids that happen each year in the U.S.

If I had a child, and smart guns were reliable enough, I might well be willing to spend some extra money to get a smart gun instead of my current dumb guns. And if (as I asked you to assume) such smart guns became generally about as reliable and about as costly as ordinary guns, I think smart gun mandates might well be constitutional under the theory that they do not materially interfere with the right to keep and bear arms in self-defense. I'll have more to say with this sort of "substantial burden" inquiry when I blog about my article, but right now I'm too busy writing it to blog more extensively about it.

But the concern about electromagnetic pulses puts a different cast on things. Naturally, I don't expect an e-bomb being set off in L.A. any time soon; but I also don't expect a fatal gun accident in my house any time soon, since those are rare events, too. But I do know that there's a nontrivial chance that in my lifetime, there will be some terrorist or military attack on the place that I live. When that happens, there might well be serious social disruption caused by the attack, and extra need for me to be able to protect myself and my family. It would be just the wrong time to be armed with something that used to be a gun but that's now just an expensive lump of metal.

Naturally, this is just one cost that one has to consider — both in one's personal buying decisions and in deciding what the constitutional rule ought to be — and as I mentioned the benefits of smart guns, if they become highly reliable, are nontrivial. Moreover, the cost might be minimizable, for instance if the guns end up being properly shielded (though I understand that creating such shielding is not easy, which is one reason that e-bombs are potentially powerful weapons), or if the guns are set up so that when the "smart" technology fails, the result is a working dumb gun rather than an inoperable one.

But I don't think that we can just ignore this cost. We've generally lived our lives in environments of peace and civil order, but there's no guarantee that this will continue; in fact, judging by recent human history, there's reason to think that there's a significant (10%? 20%? who knows?) probability that at least some time in our lives, our homeland will be attacked, possibly with sophisticated anti-electronic weapons, and civil order will break down. And when that happens, we'll both be in special need of personal defense weapons, and in special need of personal defense weapons that haven't had their innards fried to a crisp.

2. When I blogged about this, Matthew Yglesias responded:

So let me ask again: Should considerations of such extraordinary threats, of an uncertain magnitude, be part of the policy analysis when it comes to smart gun mandates? Of the constitutional analysis?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. One More Question About Speculation:
  2. Speculation and Policy Decisions:
  3. Electromagnetic Pulse and Smart Guns:
Guesty McGuesterson:
Should considerations of such extraordinary threats, of an uncertain magnitude, be part of the policy analysis when it comes to smart gun mandates?

Well, suppose in the near future, someone told you that if you didn't made love to a smart gun, a hungry pack of velociraptors would devour your whole family. Given such an extraordinary threat of an uncertain magnitude, I better hope your thoughts on the second amendment includes a lengthy discussion on man/smart gun love.

Rampant speculation without any serious basis in reality ought not form the basis of a policy, no?
2.3.2009 7:49pm
Ilya Somin:
It's worth noting that our Civil War and its aftermath involved a great deal of guerrilla violence (e.g. - in places like Missouri), banditry, and pillaging, as well as conventional battles between armies. Yglesias' characterization of the war is wrong.
2.3.2009 7:57pm
corneille1640 (mail):

A high-altitude nuclear detonation can generate an electromagnetic pulse that will basically destroy unshielded electronic circuitry in line of sight — potentially over hundreds of thousands of square miles.

Wouldn't hundreds of thousands of square miles cover the entire earth? Are nuclear devices really that strong?
2.3.2009 8:01pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Don't need e-bombs except for a large field of combat. Smaller electronic weapons with a short range can be put together by moderately skilled persons using commonly available components. You can be sure that if the cops started using smart guns the gangs would acquire devices to render them inoperable.

It is also a moderately well-known fact that many law enforcement organizations have them to stop modern vehicles in a pursuit. Most cars built since about 1988 can be stopped cold by frying their electronics from a pursuing squad car (which has to have shielding against being disabled itself. It this concerns you, lose your electronic ignition and go back to a distributor.
2.3.2009 8:03pm
CDR D (mail):
Always keep a muzzle-loader of sufficient caliber as a back-up.

Or maybe three or four.
2.3.2009 8:09pm
wb (mail):
I would have a different worry than a terrorist e-bomb. Namely that the government would mandate that the electronics of the smart gun have a chip (G-chip) with a backdoor that the government could use to disable the weapon using routine truck portable rf generators. To be sure the government would only access your G-chip as a matter of public safety... right? This sort of "smartness" (and how would you know that your gun doesn't have the G-chip) could be quite secret. I would judge the such technology to "infringe" on your right to bear arms.

So yes, a the nature of arms is relevant to the legal and political debate. Though not for the teerrorist reason that you cite.
2.3.2009 8:11pm
Former Student:
I'm not going to pretend to put a lot of thought into hypotheticals about the constitutional implications of technology that may or may not ever exist.

Reminds me of a hypothetical (and equally ridiculous) tort question about a guy falling off a cliff, through no fault of his own, who would kill you if he landed on you, and you couldn't move to avoid having him land on you, and you amazingly enough had a futuristic lasergun that would vaporize him, and whether or not you could vaporize him to avoid having him injure you.

I never saw how any of that was more helpful than the real life situations that occur every day. Why sit around dreaming up crap like that? Why not think about real people's real problems in DC or LA, or anywhere else?
2.3.2009 8:11pm
wb (mail):

A corollary to my post... cops and soldiers would use dumbs guns.
2.3.2009 8:12pm
Michael Drake (mail) (www):
I agree with Matt that the civil breakdown scenario is a little fantastic, besides being both too broad and too narrow. But let's include the scenario in the policy analysis. Here then is one compromise: Build a smart gun that is defeasible with a physical key. Impracticable for an intruder or a small child to defeat it, but in the event of an EMP- or Klaatu-induced malfunction, the owner can easily convert the gun to dumbmode.
2.3.2009 8:17pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Wouldn't hundreds of thousands of square miles cover the entire earth? Are nuclear devices really that strong?


Nope. Total surface area of Earth is about 200 million mi², land area about 30 percent of that, something like 57 million miles².
2.3.2009 8:17pm
Phelps (www):
The real impediment to smart guns is that no one is willing to discuss smart guns that are designed to fail-to-discharge. Meaning, if the "smart" part of the smartgun fails, then it still works as a dumbgun. What everyone wants is a fail-to-safe version, where when the "smart" part fails, you have a very short club.

That's not going to be acceptable to anyone serious about actually using it as a weapon. That's why we don't have electronic triggers on military weapons, and it is why we don't have fancy electronic fuses on hand grenades. They have to be simple enough to work as often as possible.
2.3.2009 8:18pm
none_ (mail):
i'd also reexamine the likelihood that nonnuclear "e-bombs" will ever exist. the basic processes that cause an EMP are the same ones that cause the rest of a nuclear explosion... having one without the other is not likely.
2.3.2009 8:19pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
I've got a counter-question for you, Eugene. Would you consider it appropriate to require fingerprint access to a printing press, even if it might be somehow disabled?

As I reguarly emphasize, I'm not a lawyer, but it would seem that the Second Amendment has roughly equal status to the First, and if we wouldn't accept a technological restriction on our access to free speech or free religious exercise, then we ought not accept it for the Second Amendment either.
2.3.2009 8:20pm
Jim Hu:
Wouldn't hundreds of thousands of square miles cover the entire earth? Are nuclear devices really that strong?

sqrt(10^5) = 316.27

This must be the earth as depicted on the famous New Yorker cover.
2.3.2009 8:23pm
Guesty McGuesterson:
Would you consider it appropriate to require fingerprint access to a printing press, even if it might be somehow disabled?

This is just not getting to the actual argument. Obviously many support environmental restrictions on the operation of printing presses, restricting them from spewing a gallon of nuclear waste for each page printed. The question isn't whether any regulation on the right is automatically unconstitutional; if it was Eugene'd be out of a job. These are hard questions, and raptors are coming for you if you don't start fellating that gun. I've assigned a 10% likelihood to the possibility so it must be true.
2.3.2009 8:24pm
Shelby (mail):
Should considerations of such extraordinary threats, of an uncertain magnitude, be part of the policy analysis when it comes to smart gun mandates? Of the constitutional analysis?

Ultimately, I suppose so. But I wouldn't waste more than a footnote on it in an article to which it is tangential.

The local-disruption mechanism is perhaps the more plausible one for the near term; terrorists who don't have their own countries are nowhere near having the capabilities for air-burst nukes. So that's what I would prioritize in a discussion, while perhaps mentioning outright warfare (in the U.S.) as a more remote possibility.
2.3.2009 8:25pm
Fub:
...If an electromagnetic pulse destroys my smart gun (because I was so smart and cautious that I traded in my dumb gun for the smart gun), the result won't be unarmed me vs. unarmed attackers. It'll be unarmed me vs. armed attackers.
...
So let me ask again: Should considerations of such extraordinary threats, of an uncertain magnitude, be part of the policy analysis when it comes to smart gun mandates? Of the constitutional analysis?
Insofar as one's gun safe is a grounded Faraday cage, any policy analysis might find at least a marginally lesser need for concern about an EMP attack disabling all civilian "smart" guns. The assumption is that at least some guns will be stored, and not in the open, during an EMP event.
2.3.2009 8:47pm
Syd Henderson:
The real problem will be when guns get smart enough to obey the First Law of Robotics.
2.3.2009 8:51pm
Helen:
I recognize that this does not address the question posed, but it is part of the "smart guns" debate:

Is it feasible to impose a legal prohibition on "dumb" guns for self-defense purposes, without also banning "dumb" sporting firearms? It's difficult to imagine that all the highly specialized firearms used in multiple shooting disciplines (single action revolvers used in "cowboy action" shooting, Olympic style target pistols, etc.) would be made available in "smart" versions. Most have a very limited market, and their manufacturers will simply stop selling them in the jurisdictions that impose these prohibitions. Coupled with the federal requirement to purchase within your home state, the result is that there is no legal means for a resident of a location with such a restriction to obtain such a firearm -- even if he/she is willing to store it out of state.

Is the right to keep and bear arms protected only for self-defense? Do we have the legal right to own the firearms required for the sporting use of our choice? Or, so long as something effective and reliable is available for self-defense, can anything else be outlawed?

Or, do we need to think about completely different regulatory schemes for sporting and defensive firearms?
2.3.2009 8:55pm
M (mail):
The problem with the concept of smart guns is that proponents are trying to link an essentially mechanical/chemical process with an electronic one. They will never mix properly without a total ban on traditional arms, since normal firearms use mechanical/chemical processes that do not need electronic processes to function.

It is very hard to imagine a "smart" gun that could not easily be disabled so only the mechanical/chemical functionality remains.

Something fairly interesting already exists in this vein:

http://www.tarnhelm.com/magna-trigger/gun/safety/magna1.html

However, the market does not want nor need this type of product, as exemplified by its almost non-existent market penetration. The magna-trigger has been available for about 30 years, and they are very rare.

However, until the police and military find it "reliable" enough for them, the Courts should never impose it on lowly citizens. In military combat and personal self-defense combat, Murphy's law, etc. is always present, and complicating a life safety tool with electronic gadgets is unwise.

The smart gun concept is a solution to a question no one asked. If you have a firearm, it should be either locked in a tamper proof container (which can be purchased for less than $100.00), or it should be loaded and on your person.

If these basic firearms safety rules are followed, and if children are taught firearms safety in a uniform manner (e.g. Stop, Don't touch, Leave the room, Tell an adult, a la Eddie Eagle type programs) The already very very rare occurrence of children being injured will drop even lower.

As for criminal misuse, again, if the firearm is not on your person, it should be locked up. This is too simple of an alternative for the government to be able to suggest "smart" gun technology is the least intrusive means of addressing the child injury or unauthorized use scenarios. This assumes that the 2nd amendment rights have any substance at all, which will take another 10-20 years for the Courts to "find".

To answer the question, yes these issues should be considered, but given the simple and inexpensive alternatives to accomplish these laudable goals of child safety and unauthorized use access, it is hard to imagine smart gun mandates being able to be imposed by the government on any real Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

The fact that police and military are always exempted from all these "safety" initiatives should be enough to make one suspicious of whether safety is the true goal.
2.3.2009 8:59pm
pintler:
1)Did I misunderstand Heller (probably!). I thought the test was not whether a given flavor or arms was useful or had a net social benefit, but whether it was in common use. In that case, the marketplace would decide.

2)I'm no physicist, but I get the impression the military expects their electronic doodads to keep working in a nuclear war scenario, which leads me to wonder whether shielding or hardening isn't feasible at a nonprohibitive cost.

3)I imagine smart guns would be pretty hackable. One that keeps a crook from using a policeman's gun for a minute or two, sure - just like a good retention holster offers substantial obstacles if you don't know the right sequence of manipulations - but it seems the smart part of the gun will eventually unblock something mechanically, or deliver a bit of current. I don't see how either can be hard to replace, although I confess I am a tinkerer who views 'No User Serviceable Parts Inside' as a challenge :-). Of course, that a crook can bypass the mechanism in a short time may not help Prof. V.

4)As to the 'handguns aren't useful in warfare', some soldiers disagree - I recently read 'A Rifleman Went to War' by H. W. McBride - a US citizen who served in the Canadian army in WWI. He devotes an entire chapter to 'The Pistol in War', the short version of which was that he thought pistols had several advantages when groping about in no man's land in the dark. The military issues them for a reason.
2.3.2009 9:00pm
riptide:
What Phelps said above, rephrased slightly:
"failsafe", although commonly misused to indicate something that doesn't fail, actually means that a device, when it fails, fails to a safe state. in the case of a gun, this could either be "off", where no one could fire the weapon, or "on". Only the former case poses a potential problems in this thought exercise.
2.3.2009 9:07pm
Hartley:
Considering that an EMP can be created over a much smaller area (and by considerably easier means) than a nuclear detonation, I would think that entrusting one's life to a device that could be so disabled would be perceived as unwise. Keep in mind that even a nearby lightning strike can approximate an EMP event.
If I had a Smart Gun, perhaps for the "child in the house" scenario you describe,I would want to either a) have a way to override the "smart" feature; or b) a backup non-Smart gun, suitably secured, but available.
2.3.2009 9:10pm
BRM:
Prof. Volokh,

I think your EMP hypothetical raises a very good concern about smart guns, and about replacing simple mechanical tools with electric-circuit based tools. However, including an argument like "one concern about smart guns is that terrorists could disable all our weapons by detonating a giant nuclear EMP device, leaving the US defenseless" opens the door for critics to marginalize your article by mocking the improbability of such a scenario.

Rather than framing the issue as a very low probability of a catastrophic loss, perhaps frame it as an uncertain world where many significant harms (both known and unknown) are each a low probability, but that something will probably go wrong, and we should leave ourselves adaptable.
2.3.2009 9:23pm
cirby (mail):
Something that gets glossed over when people talk about EMP effects: they're not that effective, overall.

The major effectiveness of EMP weapons is on long pieces of wire, such as power lines. They induce a fraction of a volt per meter over thousands of meters (or kilometers), creating a very fast, very large voltage surge. For shorter lines, it's not that high of a voltage (or amperage). The primary effect of a large EMP on the US will be to kill the electrical grid.

The devices you have plugged into the wall are vulnerable, but smaller, moderately shielded ones won't have any real issues. Smart guns and many portable electronics will have a good chance of making it through a large-scale EMP - as long as it's not from a nuke landing on your head.

Something else that's gone unnoticed is that protection from EMPs for computers consists of high-speed, medium-voltage surge suppressors (for the most part, along with case shielding). Forty years ago, such speedy suppressors were very expensive - but even a mid-price modern-day device has the multi-thousand volt, sub-nanosecond response that could probably prevent EMP from damaging your computer.
2.3.2009 9:25pm
Don Kilmer (mail):
The query presented is:


Should considerations of such extraordinary threats, of an uncertain magnitude, be part of the policy analysis when it comes to smart gun mandates? Of the constitutional analysis?


Yes -- for the simple reason that the Second Amendment itself is about "extraordinary threats" of an "uncertain magnitude." It is impossible to compartmentalize the home defense justification for the Second Amendment and ignore the check on tyranny justification. Reread Kozinski's dissent in the Silveira case.


The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed--where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.


Having occasion to have to kill someone in self-defense is about as extraordinary as things get for most people. Guns are emergency tools for emergency situations. When you need it as a weapon, it MUST function flawlessly, first time, every time. So during this emergency; (pick one: home invasion, martial law, civil war) the the electronic barrier to the gun's operation is useless and quite possibly self-defeating.

What you are really trying to address with "smart gun" technology is storage of a weapon when it is not being used as a weapon (or when it is being used for training). There is a simple machine for making guns safe when the are being stored, its called a gun safe.

Don't fix it if it isn't broke.

In your article, you should consider the possibility that smart gun technology could be counter-productive. How many people will forgo purchase of a gun safe in lieu of a fingerprint pad? You can't very well tell people that the technology is reliable, then still require them to buy gun safes.

As a gun enthusiast, I don't like any device that comes between the mind of the shooter and the gun that enables to the shooter to treat a gun in a manner that is inconsisent with treating it as a weapon that is loaded and deadly.

With electronic ID applied to guns, be ready to hear the morons saying: "But the gun shouldn't have gone off officer, I didn't have my ring on (or press my thumb to the reader)." You hear the same thing now in accidental shootings when the idiot who killed his brother says, "The safety was on, how could the gun go off?"

Grey matter = smart gun.

Accept the following fact: Guns are dangerous. And it is because they are dangerous, that the government should not have a monopoly on their possession.

Risks are inherent in freedom, accept the risks or lose the freedom.
2.3.2009 9:32pm
Bill Kilgore:
Impressive work by Yglesias, literally everything he says is either untrue, irrelevant, or both.

In any case, I think any ban on "dumb guns" that presupposes an adequate, "safer" replacement will be inherently problematic, and not based solely on the impracticality of banning dumb guns. This is particularly so if the replacement weapon is susceptible to a "public neutering" if you will. Any weapon which has that susceptibility poorly addresses the concerns implicated by the Second Amendment. (Though not as clearly so on the side of the house you requested we stay on.)

As indicated above, part of the dumb gun appeal is that that particular tool is easy to use, easy to fix, and if necessary, relatively easy to make. Any smart gun that doesn't have all of those characteristics will struggle to provide any basis for altering a reasoned interpretation of the Second Amendment.
2.3.2009 9:33pm
Laura S.:

But I certainly see the advantage of such guns, as a means of preventing the 100 or so fatal gun accidents and the greater number of nonfatal gun accidents involving kids that happen each year in the U.S.


That approximately how many children die of the Flu each year.
2.3.2009 9:34pm
A Law Clerk:
As to the Constitutional question:

Right now a traditional "safety" can be found on almost every gun. Some guns, like a Glock, don't have a classic safety button or switch, but I would say the overwhelming majority of guns have some sort of safety to prevent accidental discharge. Would it be constitutional for there to be a statute mandating traditional safeties on all guns? I would think yes.
A smart ID lock safety isn't really any different. Like a classic safety, it prevents unintended discharges. The only difference is we are all used to classic safeties and the ID locks seem untested and futuristic. If, however, they reliably worked, (1) who's to say you can even buy a gun without a smart safety (find me a gun today without a classic safety), (2) how would it infringe 2nd Amendment rights any more than a classic safety does today.


As to the EMP threat:

I don't see this as a problem. A thin piece of metal could as a gaussian shield. I always keep my guns rapped in aluminum foil: it keeps my guns working from an EMP pulse, and the foil can serve as a helmet to keep the government from reading my thoughts.
2.3.2009 9:39pm
Don Kilmer (mail):
A Law Clerk wrote:
find me a gun today without a classic safety

How about every revolver made by Smith &Wesson, not to mention most revolvers made by Colt, Rugers, Taurus, Rossi, etc....
2.3.2009 9:51pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Some thoughts:

Until ordinary police officers on patrol carry smart guns as their duty weapon, the general public should not be coerced by law into adopting them. The lives of ordinary citizen are no less and no more important than those of police officers.

Smart guns that work as reliably as dumb guns may prove to be an attraction to a large number of potential gun owners, particularly those with children. Just two weekends ago, I was discussing guns with a couple at home, and the lady, while supportive of guns in general, said that she did not want to keep guns in the same home as her children. Gun rights advocates should consider this as a way to broaden the appeal of firearms as defensive weapons. Ironically, even though gun ban advocates are pushing the smart guns, it could backfire upon them in a big way.

In case of EMP or other electronic malfunction, accidental or induced, the smart gun should be convertible to a dumb gun by a manual key or other simple device. This will ensure that the usefulness of the firearm is preserved even in case of calamity, while preventing casual unauthorized access.
2.3.2009 9:53pm
Kevin P. (mail):

A Law Clerk:
Right now a traditional "safety" can be found on almost every gun. Some guns, like a Glock, don't have a classic safety button or switch, but I would say the overwhelming majority of guns have some sort of safety to prevent accidental discharge.


The correct term is manual safety, i.e. a switch or device designed to be operated manually before the gun will fire. There is no current requirement that any firearm have a manual safety.
2.3.2009 9:55pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
I much appreciate the comments -- very helpful, thanks! I should make clear, though (especially given Guesty's point): EMP, unlike sex-starved velociraptors, is quite real, as are nuclear bombs, as is EMP that goes much further than the bomb's kil radius.

What we don't know is the per-year probability that America would be subject to an EMP-generating (but not otherwise immediately lethal) nuclear attack. Surely considering that involves some element of speculation, but it's not that far off from the sort of speculation that we often have to do.

Presumably we wouldn't inherently condemn the federal government's spending some money to shield American infrastructure installations against EMP, right? But that also involves the same sort of speculation about the risk of an EMP-generating attack. Is there some inherent reason that such speculation is proper for evaluating the merits of spending programs, but not proper when evaluating the constitutionality of regulatory programs (in the course of determining the burden the programs may impose on the exercise of constitutional rights)?
2.3.2009 9:56pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):

Something else that's gone unnoticed is that protection from EMPs for computers consists of high-speed, medium-voltage surge suppressors (for the most part, along with case shielding). Forty years ago, such speedy suppressors were very expensive - but even a mid-price modern-day device has the multi-thousand volt, sub-nanosecond response that could probably prevent EMP from damaging your computer.


Last summer, I had a bolt of lightning pop right close by. It took out not only my cable modem (on its own surge protector), but also my top-brand, mid-range UPS/surge protector as well as everything downstream from it.

At least six other people in my apartment complex--that I know of--suffered the same effects on their equipment. Some lost their HDTVs and audio equipment, too.

No one reported any 'smart gun' damage, but that's likely because no one had one. Florida has a liberal licensing regime, so 'dumb guns' prevail.
2.3.2009 9:59pm
Don Kilmer (mail):
E.V. wrote:
Is there some inherent reason that such speculation is proper for evaluating the merits of spending programs, but not proper when evaluating the constitutionality of regulatory programs (in the course of determining the burden the programs may impose on the exercise of constitutional rights)?


Let me pose a different hypothetical:

Suppose it were technologically possible to have a printer read an image before it printed the image. By extension, the printer could "refuse" to print illegal images e.g., unlicensed copyrighted material, government secrets, child pornography, etc... [maybe it would even be possible to have the printer log on to the interet and "rat out" the person seeking to print the illegal material.]

What is the constitutional analysis necessary if a law was passed forcing printer manufacturers to install such a device on all printers to avoid (for example) the distribution of child pornography. And should the cost of the device factor into the constitutional analysis?

Same problem, nyet?
2.3.2009 10:13pm
Old Fart:
This debate approaches upon the fantastical.

Guns are very simple devices. Even in the event of total anarchy, most anyone could still make one in their basement (or cave). Ammo, too.

The concept of a "smartgun" would be, by comparison, infinitely more complex. And most any technology that could prevent unauthorized discharge could likely be circumvented with less effort than building a new gun from raw materials.

Discussion of the effects of EMP just don't belong in a law blog. Nor in a scholarly paper on the Second Amendment.
2.3.2009 10:16pm
keithwaters (mail):
Does this technology allow more than one person to use the weapon? Imagine a man buying a gun for use at home by the members of his family. Would everyone have to have a separate gun?
2.3.2009 10:28pm
Jim In Arizona (mail):
Sticking points: Who gets to determine the smart gun is reliable?

Will the President's protection detail use the smart gun?
2.3.2009 10:34pm
JB:
One problem with smartguns is the more general problem with electronic security. In order to stop an unauthorized user from firing a smartgun, you essentially have to use DRM technology, at which point the fact that physical access to the DRM'd device is at least 50% of overriding the DRM renders the whole thing moot.

In other words, smartguns won't work for the same reason that you can download any movie you want on bittorrent.
2.3.2009 10:43pm
Bill Wiese (mail):
I agree with those who think any proposed 'smart gun' regulations are a way-beyond-excessive gating of a fundamental enumerated constitutional right. (This is really similar to various extant laws restricting sales of new handguns to "approved" handguns.)

Even today, it's quite common for folks to remove certain 'safeties' on their guns: in particular, the 'magazine disconnnect' is often removed from handguns because that device can grossly interfere with the quality of the trigger pull (and accuracy potential). [I think most of us would not remove other safeties - manual, grip safety, etc. since those don't interfere with haptic/ergonomic issues.] And while such modification may affect aspects of the resale ability of the modified handgun in the future in certain locales, I'd bet most gun folks don't care about that and would rather reduce the value/resaleability of their firearm than have crippled or 'weird' functionality.

Requirements that all new guns would have such 'smart' technology would also just skew the marketplace (raising prices, increasing demand) toward older used 'dumb' guns.

Significant extra failure points would be added: besides the authentication sensor (fingerprint or RFID 'ring' reader, etc.) a go/no-go processor would be required, along with some sort of power source, coupled with some electromechanical activator device (i.e., a solenoid for striker firing pin) - or it would require specialty high priced ammunition using electrically-fired non-impact primers. (In the 1990s, Remington sold 'E-Tronix' rifles: the ammunition had special electrically-triggered primers; the intent of this design was to offering consistent prier ignition behavior and a very clean electronic trigger. It failed miserably in the marketplace except as a collector's item.)

Also, I've done almost a decade of 'reverse engineering' electronic control firmware for a living. Typical 'smart gun' setups would employ some sort of 'microcontroller' CPU with a bit of embedded firmware to gate the trigger action from the firing action. This can easily be overridden and 'hotwired' - no matter how complex the intermediate processing of the authentication is, it all boils down to a signal to the 'firing engine', easily short-circuited.

In fact, most any 'smart gun' self-loading pistol design of which I can conceive may well run afoul of current BATFE and/or state laws for being 'readily convertible' to fully automatic ("machinegun") operation. ("Constructive possession" might then be triggered by owning a smart gun and a few wires and some simple code running on a PC.) Hacking electronics to do simple, repetitious things is quite easy and often easier than making robust finely-detailed mechanical parts: I'd rather write a chunk of C or assembly code any day than have to machine a precise metal part. And for everyone that's thought of kludging a small electric screwdriver with a cam device to be inserted into a trigger group of a semiauto firearm to render it into a machinegun, their dreams have been realized: with a smart gun and an electronically-activated firing mechanism, 90% of their work has been done for 'em up front.

Aside from fears of EMP bursts from nuclear devices, one should be worried about other reliability issues in a smart gun. Just as even today's cars can misfire when driving by a powerful radio or TV station (despite shielding of their wiring/engine control computer), there's a chance a localized source of EMI/RFI energy (cellphone? 2 way radios? at the dentist near an X-ray machine? etc.) could couple into the device and render it failure prone. [The electronics/firmware would have a natural bias toward the nonfiring condition to avoid unintended discharge, which would be magnified when the 'works gummed up'.]

Since this is the 21st century, I'd think the advent of any marketable smart gun would be followed by a herd of irrepressible young 'smart gun hackers' - bypassing limits for the pure joy/challenge of it, rather than the desirousness of the outcome. Just like the folks who hacked DVD security "because it was there" (even though the movie itself wasn't worth copying!) or those who 'jailbreak' their new iPhones so they can perform non-Apple-approved tasks - this aspect should not be minimized. (I myself used to reverse engineer &tweak engine control firmware to increase cars' horsepower, change shift points &rev limits, etc. It was a fun gig and a nice job.) Even if there were legal risk to doing such hacking, I think it'll still happen (much like college kids stealing burglar alarms as a prank).

Most importantly, I see the attempts of the last decade or so at foisting smart guns on our citzenry not as any true attempt at driving safety, but as a marketplace control attempt by those totally opposed to guns and trying to sneak their bans in under the guise of 'safety'. We've already seen this in California, where there's a "Roster of Approved Handguns". (Used handguns in CA do not have to be Rostered to be resold between parties thru a dealer.)

The below-the-table goal of this CA handgun Rostering law was to ban lower-price handguns, but unfortunately (to the bill writers) those handguns sailed thru the drop testing and are being sold to this day. Instead, this Roster is used as a fee collection method and trivial changes to a handgun's grips, finish or barrel length require retesting and relisting. Some small semicustom gunmakers won't sell their wares in CA due to this onerous burden. [Significant Federal consumer/warranty issues arise, because if a handgun changes its configuration or uses replacement parts from another vendor it is no longer considered Rostered and isn't sellable as dealer inventory within CA gun shops. Thus, this creates a sole-source replacement parts market for the original gun mfgr.]


Bill Wiese
The Calguns Foundation
San Jose, CA
2.3.2009 11:22pm
Kirk:
Phelps,
That's why we don't have electronic triggers on military weapons
You mean "on military small arms". The bigger the weapon, the more likely electronics are an integral part of the package.

A Law Clerk,
find me a gun today without a classic safety
Just about every revolver ever made, including current production. The aforementioned Glock (like them or don't, but they're standard issue in quite a few law-enforcement agencies.) The Springfield XD series. The KelTec that's sitting in my pocket as I type this. And many others of similar design.

They're all around you...
2.3.2009 11:35pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Once had a student who fried a voltmeter with his taser, just to see what would happen. Same would happen with a smart gun. A level of stupidity that reminds me of this thread.

How about worrying that someone exercising her right to carry right, whatever that is, will shoot you first because you are ugly and deserve it before you can draw any kind of weapon. Much more likely.
2.3.2009 11:37pm
Shelby (mail):
Is there some inherent reason that such speculation is proper for evaluating the merits of spending programs, but not proper when evaluating the constitutionality of regulatory programs (in the course of determining the burden the programs may impose on the exercise of constitutional rights)?

No. However, much such spending is on mobile platforms (ships, planes, laptops, etc.) that could more plausibly be exposed to a nuclear-sourced EMP outside the US. What percentage of dollars spent on such hardening go for permanent in-US installations? (I suspect the actual figure can't be determined without access to very highly classified information, but that's the question to ask.)

Old Fart: Even in the event of total anarchy, most anyone could still make one in their basement (or cave). Ammo, too.

Sorry, but no, at least as to guns. A small percentage of people, though substantial in absolute numbers, could make a gun as you say. More (though still a small percentage) could learn but consider it a waste of time. Regarding ammo, yes, most people interested enough in firearms to use them routinely could learn to make their own -- so long as they have access to appropriate high-grade materials. Very, very few people could make effective ammo from near-scratch.
2.3.2009 11:41pm
Kirk:
Shelby,
Very, very few people could make effective ammo from near-scratch.
I'd agree that few could make effective self-contained cartridges from scratch. But muzzle-loading cast-lead spherical bullets were good enough for our Revolutionary War forebears at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and in case of need they'd suffice for us to--at least better than the alternative of not having any firearm at all.
2.3.2009 11:56pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
A smart ID lock safety isn't really any different. Like a classic safety, it prevents unintended discharges.
Prevents? That is wishful thinking. Some people say that they do not even reduce unintended discharges.
2.3.2009 11:57pm
Ricardo (mail):
What we don't know is the per-year probability that America would be subject to an EMP-generating (but not otherwise immediately lethal) nuclear attack. Surely considering that involves some element of speculation, but it's not that far off from the sort of speculation that we often have to do.

It's a buyer's market in terms of finding qualified risk managers. The same geniuses who said there was only a minuscule probability that housing prices would decline at the same time across the U.S. are out of work now. I'm sure someone could hire them to say the probability of an EMP attack is also too small to take seriously.

Sometimes worst-case scenarios are worth seriously considering. It's why the U.S. spends millions of dollars guarding gold at Fort Knox, keeps smallpox vaccine on hand (though not nearly enough), and keeps the Selective Service Agency up and running.
2.4.2009 12:07am
ddt (mail):
There are so many failure modes to any "smart gun" that terrorist/military attack EMP need not enter the equation. Additionally, the existence of either of these 2 events suggest that your weapon is much more likely to be used in a militia or guerrilla action than for self-defense.

Even well designed "smart guns" will need batteries to run. The batteries running out is a bit more of an inconvenience with a self-defense weapon than your TV remote control.

EMP guns on a personal scale are relatively easy to build and pose a definite threat. They are well within the capabilities of your average high school graduate. Google should find a number of examples.

Smart guns are only reliable if they have the key on you. In your home it is quite likely that your key will be sitting on your dresser at some point. Naturally fingerprint readers are not reliable enough and consume gobs more power than RFID system.

The most common type of smart gun (RFID) is also susceptible to government or private party interception. Someone can electronically snoop and find that you have a firearm key on you. Your key is essentially an electronic beacon calling out to others that you have a firearm. Bad guys could easily use this technology to find victims who are unarmed.
2.4.2009 12:07am
Bill McGonigle (www):
Let's assume the gun with the James Bond biometric grip (my office door lock recognizes in 3 seconds, this is close to instant in the foreseeable future).

It's a regular gun with an electronic safety on it. Being that guns *require* regular disassembly for maintenance, making one that couldn't be converted to a regular gun would be really hard, you can't make a sealed gun. So, we can assume that most will be capable of being converted.

So the effect of the regulation would be like all other similar ones - law abiding citizens would have less capable arms. So, in the event of an EMP, the criminals would be well-armed and everybody else impotent.

Note, there are also space-weather events that could have a similar effect to an EMP, no terrorists required. "Boys, it's looting time!"

Now then, what are you going to do about 'antique' firearms? Make everybody turn them in? Forbid them in homes with children? Neither are appetizing yet are required to 'fix' the problem.

And I know it's forbidden on premise to bring up the intent of the second amendment, but it's worth mentioning in general that if this were to come to pass, the *government* would have incentive to detonate that EMP. We at least know *they* have them and governments throughout history don't behave forever.

As to actually solving the problem at hand, putting biometric locks on guns is attacking the wrong end of the problem. Biometric locks on gun safes solve the problem, and can be ordered online today for $250 or so. Having a loaded pistol in a gun safe in the bedroom closet with a biometric lock on it solves nearly all complaints.
2.4.2009 12:08am
Bama 1L:
A smart gun really seems like nearly the last piece of electronics that would suffer damage from EMP. Everything plugged into a phone or power line would have been well and truly fried by the attack. Also, is the effect of the "smart" part of the smartgun no longer functioning that the "gun" part functions or that it doesn't function? Surely the former, right?

Other point: isn't Kozinski saying that you need your guns in case the government collapses or becomes evil, not to defend yourself against ordinary crime?
2.4.2009 12:26am
PubliusFL:
Guesty McGuesterson: Well, suppose in the near future, someone told you that if you didn't made love to a smart gun, a hungry pack of velociraptors would devour your whole family. Given such an extraordinary threat of an uncertain magnitude, I better hope your thoughts on the second amendment includes a lengthy discussion on man/smart gun love.

If this is constitutionally relevant, I would think that the law classifying most firearms with a bore diameter of greater than half an inch as "destructive devices" would be highly suspect.
2.4.2009 12:38am
corneille1640 (mail):

Nope. Total surface area of Earth is about 200 million mi², land area about 30 percent of that, something like 57 million miles².

Wow...I sure got that one wrong!
2.4.2009 12:54am
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
And the sort of gun you'd keep in your house is hardly going to help you if someone starts rolling tanks down the street or dropping bombs on your city.


Yeah, kinda like how Iraqis and Afghanis armed only with rifles weren't able to offer any sustained resistance to the US Army.

Oh, wait...
2.4.2009 1:33am
SecurityGeek:
There are a lot of correct statements here why EMP effects are of little worry for smartguns. Honestly, I would be more worried about the longevity and robustness of such guns even without of a nuke cooking off above your house.

I've heard stories of my great uncle's M1 surviving the climb out of the South Pacific and unto some godforsaken beach and still working, and I know a bunch of these rifles are still in fine condition in private collection. I highly doubt a handgun with a 25 cent CMOS chip and lithium battery will survive sitting in your gun safe for more than 18 months and still fire reliably.

Batteries suck, and most technologies do not hold a charge well over a long period without recharge cycles. Maybe you could keep a hand crank next to your gun?

Stupid idea.
2.4.2009 1:47am
Guesty McGuesterson:
EMP, unlike sex-starved velociraptors, is quite real, as are nuclear bombs, as is EMP that goes much further than the bomb's kill radius.

You're putting the rabbit in the hat.

You can make cursory assertions and so can I. Mine was chosen to be farcical, but don't let that detract from the point. The ability to hypothesize a threat doesn't mean you can meaningfully attribute a probability to it or plan a policy around it. If you have the ability to assert that any doomsday scenario of your choosing is "likely" then you can justify anything.

I oppose smart gun measures for internal reasons; they can malfunction under normal circumstances and can be circumvented, etc. There's no reason to imagine a farcical civil war or nuclear weapons that leave us alive but ruin our guns. Hell, why not imagine we're invaded by aliens who can hack our guns?
2.4.2009 1:58am
Gene Hoffman (mail) (www):
Backing away a bit from large scale EMP devices it is pretty trivial to build an easily portable RFID jammer. In a smart gun world home invaders would bring their jammer guaranteeing that your smart gun can't shoot them. It's pretty trivial reverse engineering to figure out how to make sure the ring or whatever just doesn't work around the jamming device.

A poster above is quite correct however. California's mandate of "be liable if a child gets access to your gun and does something bad" combined with real technology available today solves most if not all of the problem. A biometric gun safe or pistol container plugged into the wall with a battery back up and a loaded handgun inside is a pretty perfect home defense weapon in a house with small children. I and my wife can easily get to the loaded and ready to use firearm - even if the power is out. My kids can not - not until they are old enough to responsibly use deadly force in self defense too.

I have two of them for exactly these reasons.

-Gene
2.4.2009 2:11am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Wow, people here are being unduly pessimistic about the ability of smart guns to actually work reliably. I agree there are other reasons to oppose them or even believe they are unconstitutional but a good design could solve most of the issues mentioned here.

First of all a well designed smart gun technology would be generic and could easily be installed on any boutique gun without requiring high volumes. Moreover, it could probably be done largely without the need to worry about batteries running out.

Just off the top of my head I imagine that the smart gun technology would take the form of some kind of trigger lock or obstruction to the firing pin that would be moved aside in response to proper authentication. The package controlling this obstruction would be mass produced and could then be added by boutique gun manufacturers without the need to mass produce their own solution. Since no parts would be moving while authenticated it need not cause any harmful vibration.

If it was well made the amount of energy required to move aside some extremely tiny sliver of metal could be reduced to an absurdly low level. Now presumably one would want to ensure that in the event of a power failure while authenticated it would return to locked mode but that could still be done with relatively low power.

Instead of a problematic battery use a high end capacitor and charge it via either the initial motion of the trigger or the cocking mechanism perhaps with battery/plugin alternatives for competition guns where even this small alteration would be too much.

Since it would probably be pretty easy to remove I think it doesn't raise many constitutional issues. Now where things get interesting is when you start demanding that the gun only fire ammunition keyed to the individual doing the shooting with mandatory registration in a government database.
2.4.2009 2:41am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Ohh yah and if the entire device is housed inside the metal gun body I doubt it would be very vulnerable to EMP. If it's still a problem harden it against EMP. The wonders of photolithography mean that even a large initial cost can get distributed over a huge number of people.
2.4.2009 2:44am
Franklyn (mail):
Professor, as you ponder this question please don't lose sight of the multiplicity of unintended consequence arising from the Volstead Act. Sometimes the "best" of governmental intentions will not overcome the resistance of society, and your comments re: dumb guns not going away should certainly put a brake on either/or judgments vis-a-vis smart guns. But you probably knew that.
2.4.2009 3:10am
Gene Hoffman (mail) (www):
True,

If the solution is not biometric then it's going to be RFID (rings, etc.) The error rate on biometrics is laughable. I'd be curious to see how heritable fingerprints actually are - an issue when you're really trying to stop your genetic children from making a mistake. Also, there is an old engineering maxim - you can have good fast or cheap - choose two. The faster the fingerprint scan and cheaper the component (why do we always take guns away from poor people?) the less likely the product is to be any good at not just allowing lots of false positives through to fire.

By design, RFID requires radio frequency communication to get into the firearm. If that's the case its pretty easy to make sure that whatever response the ring is giving is drowned out/confused by a jammer using the antenna built into the firearm. If there is an antenna there is a path for EMP...

-Gene
2.4.2009 3:24am
David Friedman (mail) (www):
"and as I mentioned the benefits of smart guns, if they become highly reliable, are nontrivial. "

You mention 100 or so fatal gun accidents involving children. I don't think you can assume that all would be prevented by smart guns. A smart gun used for hunting can shoot a person instead of a deer just as easily as a dumb gun can.

And 100 accidents, while it sounds terrible, is only about two chances in a million per child per year. If that counts as non-trivial, so does the risk of EMP disabling firearms.

What other advantage do they have? Smart guns are unlikely to reduce crime much if at all, both because the owners can still shoot them and because it will almost certainly be possible to disable the smart part if you don't mind breaking the law.
2.4.2009 3:36am
Doc (mail):
There is a technological assumption in much of this discussion which implies that you need a nuke explosion to produce effective EMP. Not true-- EMP devices are easily built, and effective plans are available on the internet. I believe that the USSR developed and fielded one in a suitcase which would fry electronics within a hundred meter range (might have been greater range, but I don't have the references available right now).

Other commenters have disparaged the ability of the common man to build his own firearms and ammo in case of need--- I am reminded of the US Army handbooks developed for resistance forces which contain detailed instructions on exactly how to do this as well.

The discussion here would be more valuable if we stick to the meaning and purpose of the 2nd amendment, and not worrying about technological issues which may or may not be relevant. Politically, we have to remember that all the push for "smart guns" is at base representative of a desire to control firearms, not a desire for safety-- guns are inherently dangerous, and should remain that way.
2.4.2009 4:46am
markm (mail):
Really, all you need to say about the reliability and cost-effectiveness of smart guns is that no police department or prison that I know of has issued smart guns to its employees, and the only legislation ever passed mandating smart guns exempted law enforcement. (Maryland or New Jersey, IIRC.) Policemen are often in close proximity to criminals who might - and sometimes do - snatch a pistol from a policeman's holster, yet they continue to run this risk rather than use a smart gun. Prison guards go unarmed whenever they might find themselves on the same side of the bars as a prisoner, and prefer this to carrying smart guns.

If they aren't good enough for the professionals who run an everyday risk of having their guns snatched and misused by criminals, they aren't good enough for the rest of us.
2.4.2009 7:06am
cbunix23:
And these smart-guns cannot be jammed by something other than an e-bomb ? I don't buy it. I'm sure the government will never mandate that us peons own only firearms that can be electronically jammed or disabled by the government but the government owned firearms cannot be jammed. No, they would never do that. ?!?

If it's electronic it can fail in more ways than a "dumb" mechanical gun. What if it is dropped in salt water, oil, snow, rolled over by a car, dropped out of a helicopter ?

Will it survive the same 3,000,000 round torture test than the new US Coast Guard and Homeland Security ran to choose a new handgun. They bought the SIG Sauer P229 in .40. I didn't notice any "smart" guns in the competition.
2.4.2009 7:21am
Brett Bellmore:

Wow, people here are being unduly pessimistic about the ability of smart guns to actually work reliably. I agree there are other reasons to oppose them or even believe they are unconstitutional but a good design could solve most of the issues mentioned here.


Not hard to figure out that you're not an engineer.

Use biometrics, and I can't wear a glove while using my gun, or even have dirty fingertips. Use RFID, and jamming is a snap. The very premise of affordable, reliable smart guns is laughable; That's not even the intent of smart guns, they're just another gun controller ploy to disarm people by compelling them to own only expensive guns, and hopefully turn in all their old guns in the process. Their working well isn't part of the plan, which is why every smart gun law ever proposed has exempted the government's guns from needing to be smart.

I'd be more worried about a back door into the system, that lets somebody just shut your gun off, than an EMP bomb; As little as I like smart gun technology, as discussed above, they are unlikely to be sensitive to EMP, though jamming is certainly going to be an issue. But who knows what the government will mandate be on that chip, once they've succeeded at mandating the chip itself?

And God forbid I should confront a burglar at 2AM, my gun wakes up when I pick it up, and starts downloading the latest firmware release instead of firing...
2.4.2009 7:26am
Bill Twist:
Insofar as one's gun safe is a grounded Faraday cage, any policy analysis might find at least a marginally lesser need for concern about an EMP attack disabling all civilian "smart" guns. The assumption is that at least some guns will be stored, and not in the open, during an EMP event.

Another thing to consider is that the electronics of a so-called "Smart Gun" would be fairly immune to EMP to begin with, and almost trivially easy to shield against it.

First, EMP mainly effects things with long "antennas", like power cords, actual antennas, connections to other equipment, etc. Any wires and circuitry in a smart gun are likely to be extremely short, and this would minimize the amount of EMP absorbed by the circuitry, probably to the point where it won't have any effect. I'm sure some fairly simple math with show that the induced currents wouldn't be enough to fry the electronics.

Secondly, if the electronics are in a metal framed gun, they are already in a "Faraday Cage" to a large degree. A Faraday cage need not be perfect to provide protection: Reducing the amount of electromagnetic radiation that hits the circuitry by a large amount would provide at least some protection.

Thirdly, a small electronics package like those likely to be used in a smart gun are easy to shield. Essentially, you can pot the electronics package in epoxy and wrap the whole assembly in foil, with just some small leads going to whatever sensor is necessary. That would probably be overkill in a metal framed gun, but it would be useful for protecting polymer framed guns.

Having said all that, smart guns are a bad idea. No matter how it is implemented, there is an interface between the mechanical and the electronic, and that is where the gun can fail, or be modified to shoot regardless of what the electronics "say". The only real exception to that would be a true electronic ignition system, which would require special ammunition with electric primers.

Any smart gun that is stolen would be readily modifiable to "dumb gun" status. The electro-mechanical ones would probably be easier than the totally electronic ones, involving a bit of filing or perhaps adding a little bit of metal somewhere, but I wouldn't expect either to be *TOO* difficult.

Also, if implemented, smart guns should have a permissive failure mode. In other words, if the battery dies or the electronics fail, the gun should revert back to "dumb gun" status. This is necessary because batteries sometimes fail, and electronics sometimes fail, and when you need to use the gun, you really need it.

My two cents worth, at any rate.
2.4.2009 8:00am
Bill Twist:
Oh, and by the way Eugene, if the smart guns have a "permissive" failure mode like I think they should, essentially that removes any possible legal objection that EMP might render your gun useless.

It does, however, introduce other ones.

Say a parent buys a smart gun when their kid is born, out of concern that the child might find the gun at a later date. Fast forward 10 or 12 years, the battery in the gun has died so it reverts back to dumb status, kid finds the gun, and ends up killing himself or someone else. What then?

What if the owner picks it up, and starts doing something stupid because he thinks it is still "smart", and ends up killing himself or someone else?
2.4.2009 8:10am
Sam H (mail):
First, a fission weapon, think Hiroshima, doesn't do the job. You need a large thermonuclear weapon and the chances of Pakistan, Iran or others building one is very remote.

Second, non-nuclear ebombs currently exist. They work by the explosive compression of a current carrying coil
2.4.2009 8:31am
Dennis Nicholls (mail):
One thing that the people who propose mandating such things as smart guns fail to realize, and which is seldom mentioned in these discussions, is the extreme longevity of firearms. This isn't a case such as mandating smog-control devices on cars, where it is presumed that cars wear out in 10 years and thus the problem of legacy smoggy cars is self-limiting. Guns last for over 100 years with proper maintenance. I have a type 03 FFL to support my collecting, and have many guns which are in proper working order but are over 50 years old. The oldest rifle which I actually fire was made in Russia in 1896! My Ruger revolver, purchased in 1982, is amost a "new gun" to my way of thinking.

What are the issues raised by the extreme longevity of firearms? This never appears to be raised by gun controllers. Do they think that guns wear out in 10 years? Or is confiscation of older guns part of their agenda? What about this line from the V Amd., "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation? Are the gun controllers willing to pay market price for tens of millions of legacy guns?
2.4.2009 8:33am
greyarcher315 (mail):
As far as the likelyhood of an emp attack, keep in mind that there are plans available out there for an emp generator. I have no idea how effective it is, but they are buildable and availble to those with the knowledge or money.


http://www.amazing1.com/emp.htm
2.4.2009 8:34am
Bill Twist:

Dennis Nicholls:
Are the gun controllers willing to pay market price for tens hundreds of millions of legacy guns?

Fixed that for you Dennis. Current estimates are somewhere between 225 and 300 million guns in circulation, and the number could well be higher.

Even if you only count handguns, you are still somewhere in 100 million territory.
2.4.2009 8:41am
JB:
Bill Wiese, in the comment after mine above, laid out a much better example of what I'd talked about. These will be hacked.

There's another issue: Ease of removal, as TruePath brought up. If it's sufficiently easy to remove that it wouldn't cause constitutional problems, then it's sufficiently easy to remove by a smart, alienated high school/college kid with a couple hours free after school. Thus it will not prevent another Columbine/VA Tech/whatever headline-grabbing tragedy, and is a restriction on our rights for not even a minuscule return in safety.

Those who trade essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety, and those who trade essential liberty for nothing at all deserve a smack upside the head.
2.4.2009 9:08am
BlackX (mail):
One other issue with smart guns that I didn't see addressed in a quick scan is that, if the excrement really does hit the fan, I want the rest of my family, friends, neighbors, etc. to be able to use the gun if necessary.
2.4.2009 9:19am
Kirk:
Dennis,
Are the gun controllers willing to pay market price for tens of millions of legacy guns?
Sadly, the assumption that they might is probably the most unlikely bit of speculation on this entire thread. Furthermore, what would a ban do the the actual (i.e. free-market) price of non-smart firearms?

I don't think a tenfold increase in value is unreasonable; look at the of today's saleable-to-civilians full-auto weapons for a comparable example. So using 10x as a factor, that would make the program cost ~$200 billion (plus overheard.)
2.4.2009 10:52am
CDT (mail):
I think you're describing two scenarios that shouldn't be combined. You wouldn't recommend that someone make an omelet in a sauce pan, so why combine two entirely different self-defense situations and rely on a single gun for both situations?

The advantage of (a future) "smart" gun is that it doesn't have to be secured to be kept safe from children (either a trigger lock or kept in a safe). It can be left on the bedside or under the pillow and be in a state of readiness against intrusion, with no risk that a child can pick it up and make fire come out the naughty end.

That isn't the scenario with a electro-magnetic pulse situation, and that's when the guns that were secured in the safe come out of the safe, and those guns have no "smart" technology... assuming also that the safe doesn't use an electronic combination lock, which would be a really stupid thing to have.

The problem occurs when folks try to have a one-size-fits-all gun solution. In the EMP situation (aka a war), a rifle is a more appropriate weapon, so if your handgun is unusable, it wouldn't be as catastrophic, because your 1950s rifle still does. The bedside hand- or shot-gun is the "smart" gun, used to protect against home intrusions.

Given that, a second handgun, without smart technology, should be in the safe.
2.4.2009 10:57am
Sarcastro (www):
[I don't buy the legacy problem. What is the lifespan of a circulated gun? I would not imagine it is terribly long. Rather shortly after smart-gun implementation, legacy guns will mostly be in the hands of hunters, collectors and home-defense types and not available for street violence.

There are other problems, of course. Beyond the threshold Constitutional and engineering problems, if hackers can break the latest video game, I'm skeptical of how much staying power a gun's smartness has.

Plus, soon after it will be time for the "smart knife."]
2.4.2009 11:05am
Yu-Ain Gonnano (mail):
Everyone so far has been talking about the consequences of the "smart" technology failing. My concern is that it might work.

Huh? You say.

Well, let's say that there was an EMP. Or more likely a NOLA type natural disaster or any other mass civil breakdown (LA Riots, anyone?). In that case, I would really like to be able to lend my weapons to my friends and neighbors so that they can defend themselves and their homes (and thus help protect me and mine) from the inevitable looters. Only problem is they are keyed to me and me alone* thus making them useless to my friends who I want to have them.


*Any ring-type system that is based on one ring per weapon is unworkable. Either wearing lots of rings so as to be able to use all your weapons (think New York Reload) or having to swap out rings in the middle of an emergency is absurd.
2.4.2009 11:05am
Yu-Ain Gonnano (mail):
I don't buy the legacy problem. What is the lifespan of a circulated gun?

There are military surplus guns sold today that are around 100 years old. And yes, they still work.
2.4.2009 11:08am
oMan (mail):
I agree with Guesty McGuesterson that we don't need to reach for distant hypotheticals to sort the policy question. But even if we were to do so, and ask "Assume the EMP scenario, should the smart gun be engineered to revert to dumb-and-useful mode?" -- the question answers itself. It is in precisely such a farfetched but dire case that you will want the gun to work. Every time. Because the social matrix has been fried and with it all the nice questions about whether Junior might hurt himself. The smartiness of the weapon is, or should be, an overlay of policy as it is an overlay of physical engineering. On top of, and subordinate to, the primary policy, and engineering, task which the weapon is addressing. Which is to protect yourself.

I also think "smart" is a misnomer. Perhaps intentional. It disguises the real decision, which is a moral one. That cannot be assigned to a chip (although with new robotic weapons we are certainly trying to go there). Morally the user of the instrument is responsible for what it does. Trying to preempt that responsibility by making the instrument usable only under certain conditions, is (a) futile (we cannot possibly anticipate all scenarios) and (b) immoral (we cannot and should not replace the user as central actor in all scenarios).

This is not to say that guns are toys to be left for children to play with them, or that anyone worthy of bearing arms should not manage their care and storage to avoid mishap, theft, etc.
2.4.2009 11:10am
Sarcastro (www):
[Yu-Ain Gonnano my point was about circulated guns. Saturday night specials and the like. The ones that you hear about getting used in the news.

I'm not too worried about gang wars weilding 100 year old guns.]
2.4.2009 11:17am
cottus (mail):
You lawyers are a crackup.
Always the horse before the cart. Like, D'oh
But someday a government will evolve that gets it.
Sooner rather than later I certainly hope.
2.4.2009 11:33am
JeffC (mail):
an EMP can be generated by many more things than a nuclear blast. It is actually simple technology to build an EMP gun which can be used to disable electronics in the near vicinity. It is something that the US military and law enforcement researchers have studied and built to be used to disable vehicles. In other words if every gun in America was a smart gun then the Government could deploy EMP guns to disable smart guns as needed thus nullifying the entire point of "keeping and bearing arms".
Keyed trigger locks are the most non-hackable means to prevent children getting access to a gun but of course kids can steal keys so there are no perfect solutions.
2.4.2009 11:34am
Verc:
Think less EMP and more hacking - purely electronic guns can be vulnerable to all sorts of technologies (and also to solar flares - just like EMPs). A cheap jammer/scrambler (which is possible) could negate your right to self-defense.

How much violent crime is committed by recidivists? If people really wanted to do something about curbing murders, they would start enforcing the law, reducing leniency in all quarters. Smart guns are a nonissue if you won't toss a cold-blooded killer in jail.
2.4.2009 11:42am
JKB:
The purpose of a firearm in a self defense situation is to provide instantaneous action to stop the threat. By definition, self defense implies imminent danger to life. Any state mandated reduction in the cability to employ a firearm in immediate defense, whether it be remote risk such as "smart weapon" vulnerability to EMP or mandated storage requirements, must be examined as to their impact on the citizens right to use the firearm in defense. In a defense situation, one second is literally a lifetime and 3 seconds can be 4 or 5 lifetimes. All technology has limitations but so called "smart weapons" will deny the user the level of self defense enjoyed by citizens of 100 years ago.

A "smart weapon" that is not reliably ready to fire in the time it takes to put your finger alongside the trigger guard will never be an acceptable defense weapon. Think of the cameras that take a second to calculate the perfect shot before cycling the shutter causing you to miss your desired action shot and you'll have a pretty good idea of what "smart weapons" will be like. Only instead of missing Jenny's cartwheel, you'll be dead and so will Jenny.

So to would mandated technology that created a vulnerability to outside disabling via EMP or radio interference make the gun useless as a reliable defensive weapon. I just read an article about state and local agencies seeking authority to use jammers at will to guard against cell phones, TV remotes, etc being used to detonate bombs. Anyone think that Bluetooth can't be jammed from a distance as well? Anyone think focused EMP weapons are a remote possibility?
2.4.2009 11:57am
Dan Hamilton:
You are in a fight with your "Smart" gun. You get hit and can't use your shooting hand. So you switch hands. Your "Smart" gun no longer works.

You are in a fight with your "Smart" gun. You get hit and go down. You wife/teenager picks up the gun to continue to defend your home or family.
The "Smart" gun no longer works.

As long as these are possible (and far more likely then EMP, government messing with the chip, etc.) "Smart" guns are only going to be bought by people who are too dumb to own a gun in the first place.
2.4.2009 11:59am
Paul Skelton (mail):
How about the best of both worlds? Instead of having an electronic LOCK, have an electronic SAFETY. Imbed an old fashioned style lock into the gun and with an old fashioned metal key you can then disable the electronic SAFETY. Keep the electronic safety on most of the time but if the batteries in the gun die or an EMP disables the gun just pull out the key and put the gun back into manual mode.

Of course there is still the cost issue but this discussion was based on the theoretical that cost was no longer an issue.
2.4.2009 12:01pm
wash:
The simple fact is that you can't add complexity without losing reliability and some people will be like the idiots that don't wear a seatbelt because they have an airbag.

"Smart guns" will lead to bad habits.

There are plenty of cheap, reliable and powerful 1898 Mauser rifles out there. If a gang started using them instead of a saturday night special, I would be much more worried.
2.4.2009 12:14pm
mooglar (mail) (www):
Vacuum tubes are resistant to EMP. That'd make your "smart" gun more reliable in that scenario. Of course, it'd be huge, and also vulnerable to other things like being dropped...

Also, most the easiest way to protect a portable electronic device from EMP when stored is... to keep the battery out. Most devices will survive an EMP just fine if there's no complete circuit for the current to run through. It's not a good idea to store electronic devices with the battery in them anyway. So you just keep the battery next to your "smart" gun when it is stored and it will probably be fine.

That said, I agree with the above commenters that "smart" guns are a terrible idea for a weapon you expect to use to defend yourself. And no matter how well you engineer your "smart" gun, adding in all those extra electronics will increase the failure rate a great deal. The more complicated a device, the greater the failure rate, guaranteed. That's why (in part, at least) guerrillas and terrorists like the AK-47 rather than the M-16. The AK-47 is simple and reliable and will work no matter how it is abused, the M-16 is much more delicate. (Remember the problems they had with them in Vietnam? Though they are much better now).

In addition, there is absolutely no way police will use these "smart" weapons. They won't want to trust their lives to a weapon that can fail. The only people who will be forced to use them are civilians. That is a virtual certainty. The argument will be that police face a lot more life-threatening situations than a civilian and must have a reliable weapon. But the whole point of having a gun for self-defense is for that rare, extraordinary situation where you have to defend yourself, and in that moment, when the police aren't there, the civilian should be afforded the same expectation that their weapon will work. It's not a matter of how often it happens to you, I think, it's a matter of what right you have to defend yourself when it actually happens. In that moment, it doesn't matter if you are a cop it happens to often or a civilian facing it for the only time in your life, you need the gun to work.
2.4.2009 12:21pm
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
I don't buy the legacy problem. What is the lifespan of a circulated gun?


One of my favorite guns is a Webley revolver that was made in 1918. It's not even considered particularly rare.
2.4.2009 12:25pm
J Richardson:
I don't think Eugene is off the mark in suggesting that we consider the impact of EMP on so-called Smart Guns. It should be considered and is an good reason not to own one of them.

There is an excellent piece of survivalist fiction out on the Internet entitled "Lights Out" by David Crawford aka "HalfFast". The premise of the story is a nuclear blast in near space has caused a electro-magnetic pulse that fries the electronics of cars, ATM machines, computers, etc. It then follows the decay of society that results and one neighborhood's response to the unrest. It is fiction but it certainly has made me think about how well prepared I am for such unrest.
2.4.2009 12:31pm
Plutosdad (mail):
" the constitutional implications of technology that may or may not ever exist. "

The technology already exists. Police have tested a little remote controlled car that will drop down and scoot under your car and fry your car with an EMP, stopping it dead.

Doing this for guns is very serious. This is very much a concern when creating electronic devices for the military. It's laughed at or derided by any means.

Moving the discussion into the realm of personal arms is only natural.
2.4.2009 12:34pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

How much violent crime is committed by recidivists? If people really wanted to do something about curbing murders, they would start enforcing the law, reducing leniency in all quarters. Smart guns are a nonissue if you won't toss a cold-blooded killer in jail.
And this is really the core issue here. "Smart guns" are touted to solve a problem that is actually relatively rare: children who get hold a gun and accidentally shoot themselves or others.

Criminals who steal smart guns will soon find entrepreneurs willing to dismantle the gun and disable the smart gun feature. I guarantee it, because at some point there's has to be an mechanical actuator that converts a "approved" signal from the electronics into something that unlocks the trigger, the firing pin, or the hammer.

Why don't we focus our energy on the core issue? The vast majority of gun crime is committed by people with previous felony convictions; under age; or with significant and usually already recognized mental health problems. (Deinstitutionalization played a significant role in the rise of "spree killers" in the 1980s and later.) There are law-abiding adults who suddenly lose it one night and murder their spouse, or a neighbor, but these are exceedingly rare--a few percent of all murders, at most.

The problem is that gun criminals are disproportionately black and Hispanic, and very disproportionately poor blacks and Hispanics. For progressives, admitting this is to admit that there is a very serious cultural problem in two of their pet communities. Rather than admit this, it is easier to pretend that the problem is widespread, and about as common among the rich and middle class, among whites and Asians, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary.
2.4.2009 12:38pm
AndyinNC:

But I do know that there's a nontrivial chance that in my lifetime, there will be some terrorist or military attack on the place that I live.

I don't think nontrivial means what Eugene thinks it means.

The chances of an attack of any sort on the place where any given person lives (or works) is extremely small. The chances of an attack with EMP in particular are smaller still.

Furthermore, the chances of anyone developing a remotely reliable smart gun (we're talking 5 nines or better for them to be acceptable, is near zero.

The chance that you have a reliable smart gun AND you are attacked by EMP is so vanishingly small that trivial massively overstates its likelihood. Spending brain power worrying about such a thing is silly.
2.4.2009 1:01pm
Sum Buddy (mail):
I'm glad the battery issue has been mentioned. Seems like a non-starter right there.

But consider also that most gun accidents happen with "unloaded" weapons. Why? Because people think they are safe, so they use less caution. I suspect you would see more accidents with "smart" guns for the very same reason.

Which gets back to the point of bearing arms as a Constitutional right (one of the very few "rights" we have which is actually in the written text itself!). The whole point of its being Constitutional is to prevent undue legislative tinkering. It's too important, and the unintended consequences too severe.
2.4.2009 1:06pm
W.H. (mail):
Another aspect not considered, specifically with regard to the 2nd Amd.

I do not think that smart guns enable the Militia. Specifically, there will be no (ready) interchangeability of small arms among the Militia. No loaning of weapons, no picking up of weapons from the field or a fallen comrade, etc.

In a situation where, perhaps, there are more fighters than firearms, smart guns are specifically designed to thwart such a scenario,

By the same aspects that the Militia would ideally have arms using the same ammunition, in order to support sharing and interchangeability, so to should the firearm itself be readily swappable and usable among Militia members.
2.4.2009 1:42pm
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):


The only difference is we are all used to classic safeties and the ID locks seem untested and futuristic.


Anything that is as dumb hunk of steeel enabled by batteries is inherently less reliable than a dumb hunk of steel.

BTW, revolvers rarely have a safety. The 1911 I carry has two safetys, a thumb safety and a grip safety. My wife's 357 magnum has no safety. That works well for us. I shoot several thousand rounds a year and am quite familiar with the workings of my all firearms. My beautiful bride on the other hand keeps hers near bedside and shoots a dozen or so rounds every two or three years.

If in the unlikely event that reliable smart gun tech is ever invented, I would still want at least a thumb safety. When you draw your pistol the safety should not be taken off until actually pointing at the target.
2.4.2009 1:51pm
Splunge:
Professor Volt, rather than focus on EMP attacks by terrorists, a really far-fetched idea, you might do better putting your review in the context of everyday malicious hacking. Google "wardriving" and "RFID hacking" to get started.

You can argue that any weapon that is sufficient dumb-user proof and sophisticated enough to identify its legitimate owner -- and, you can be sure when the Democrats get done with the bill, sophisticated enough to identify a legitimate situation for use -- is going to inevitably have multiple weak points in its security, and that history (credit card fraud, the aforementioned wardriving and RFID hacking, phishing, Outlook viruses, et cetera) shows that such systems are eminently hackable and pervertable.

Therefore, it is quite possible that a first-generation "smart" weapon with a first-generation "dumb" user would be more dangerous than its dumb gun counterpart, in the same sense that an installation of Windows XP Server by a naive user is more dangerous to the user's welfare than an installation of DOS 3.0.

I realize this doesn't get to the core of the theoretical issue of what, exactly, the Founders meant by "arms." If 22nd century technology comes up with magic thought-reading stun rings that we can all wear, which when you emit thoughts of sufficient fear, and someone nearby emits thoughts of sufficient aggression and evil intent, will harmlessly put the aggressor to sleep, can Congress then ban the ownership of pistols? As an empiricist my answer is: Who knows? Who cares? We'll find out when we get there.

It's the same story with your "smart" guns. It's not hard to argue from the history of first-generation electronic systems, even leaving out the EMP and A Canticle for Liebowitz post-apocalypse science-fiction scenarios, that in the easily forseeable future it would be unconstitutional (not to mention plainly dangerous) to ban dumb guns. I would stick to that. The law should distinguish itself from theology by firmly preferring empirical reality over theoretical principle.
2.4.2009 2:08pm
htom (mail):

Assume that smart gun technology does really develop to the point where, setting aside the risk of electromagnetic pulse, a smart gun is roughly as reliable and as costly as a comparable purely mechanical gun.


From a false premise, anything follows.

Really. Not going to happen. They're always going to be less reliable, because they are more complex and have more failure modes.

"Smart guns" are at best stupid. Dumb guns at least don't pretend to be smart. What if SmartGun™ fails -- whether through EMP or Balisk stare -- into its "discharge allowed" mode?

"Magazine safeties" aren't. They invite the user error that when the magazine is removed that the firearm is "safe". If they fail, the gun will discharge when it "shouldn't", and worse, they can make the gun fail to discharge when it should (you're in a firearms combat, eject the magazine to reload, and the fresh magazine is dropped or damaged. Before you can retrive the old magazine, you can save your life by firing the one round you have left ... but the magazine safety "protects" you.)

Guns are mostly like rocks. They lie there, doing nothing, damaging no one, until some human, or some absolutely bizarre thing happens, like a parrot, instead of the human, pulls the trigger.

Firearm Safety in Four Rules:

1) All guns are always loaded.
2) Never let the muzzle cover anything you don't want destroyed.
3) Never put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to fire.
4) Always be sure of your target, and what is above, below, beside, beyond, and through that target.
-- Col. Cooper

SmartGun™ invites the user to consider the gun to be safe. It invites the dangers it is supposed to prevent.
2.4.2009 2:08pm
zippypinhead:
On the "what about all the guns already in circulation" issue, Sarcastro wrote [non-sarcastically, sadly]:
"I'm not too worried about gang wars weilding 100 year old guns."
Why not? Basic small arms technology hasn't changed appreciably in 70 or more years. And apparently others disagree with you. The 1927 Thompson, as well as WWII-era M1 Carbines, M1 Garands, some SKS's, and the immediate post-war AK-47 series of rifles are all specifically named in Representative McCarthy's most recent "assault weapons" ban bills. The U.S. military is currently deploying rebuilt late-1950s .308 M-14s and even older .45 ACP M1911s with Special Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq because they work better than more modern USGI firearms for some applications. The standard USGI 5.56mm M-16 rifle series was first deployed in combat over 40 years ago and is based on the Armalite AR-10 rifle tested by the Army in 1955. The 9mm Beretta 92 semiautomatic pistol that is the current standard USGI M9 sidearm was introduced in the civilian market nearly 35 years ago, and is based on the 60-year old Beretta M1951 design.

Some gun-banners are presently upset about "cop killer" ammunition that can pierce soft Kevlar vests, including the century-old .30-06 and even older .30-30 rifle rounds that millions of deer hunters still use today.

And don't get me started about the report I once read about some morons in California who took pot-shots at a police helicoptor and forced it to land -- using a pre-WWI .303 Enfield (a rifle that the Mujahideen in Afghanistan used to some effect sniping at the Soviets in the 1980s, I might add).

All that a §922(o)-like prohibition on purchasing new "dumb" guns would accomplish would be to make older firearms already in circulation a lot more valuable and desired, as §922(o) already made happen with NFA firearms.
2.4.2009 2:09pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Yu-Ain Gonnano my point was about circulated guns. Saturday night specials and the like. The ones that you hear about getting used in the news.

I'm not too worried about gang wars weilding 100 year old guns.]


You overestimate the rate of firearm innovation. Revolver design is virtually unchanged over the last century. A .38 Special made in 1899 is functionally identical to one made today... and still works.

This is somewhat true of semiautomatic pistols as well: the Model 1911 is still the standard issue sidearm for some military units. The .25 ACP "vest pocket" pistol, later known as a Saturday Night Special, was introduced in 1906.

Don't underestimate 100 year old guns.
2.4.2009 2:10pm
pintler:

[Yu-Ain Gonnano my point was about circulated guns. Saturday night specials and the like. The ones that you hear about getting used in the news.

I'm not too worried about gang wars weilding 100 year old guns.]


My understanding is that the days when the good guys carried high quality guns, and crooks carried low quality ones, are largely over - the guns used in crime today are the same as used by the law abiding. The ones I read about in the paper are made by the usual suspects - glock, sig, s&w, ruger, ...

A collector may care whether a 1911 was made in 1911 or 2011, but a crook won't.
2.4.2009 2:14pm
Verc:
EMP is not really all that theoretical: large enough solar flares, hitting Earth dead-on, are virtually indistinguishable from EMPs from nuclear weapons in many effects. You are virtually guaranteed to experience in your lifetime something close to an EMP hit (the Montreal power outage was caused by a solar flare shorting out a transformer, for instance).

But iGuns are a silly idea. Completely nonfunctional even in theory, much less in practice. If you need a firearm in immediate range and in the open but have kids, concealed or open carry it. Don't want criminals to steal your weapon - lock it up. Not rocket science here.

You know what the very best electric gun is? Taser.
But by no stretch of the imagination could we consider the Founding Father's to have thought of zappers instead of muskets - that is our fundamental right.

You know what works best when stopping violent crime? Punishment. Maybe the lawyers and justice system could try that out for a change.
2.4.2009 2:35pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Actually, there was a major breakdown requiring people to use firearms in self defense in 1992 in the "vicinity" of UCLA:


"Thousands of people in the Los Angeles area rioted over the six days following the verdict. Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred, and property damages totaled US$1 billion. Many of the crimes were racially motivated or perpetrated. In all, 53 people died during the riots."


It is hardly unlikely to happen again.
2.4.2009 2:35pm
RobbAllen (mail) (www):
Even though it's a false premise, let's assume the technology is PERFECT. Totally unhackable, powered by unicorn farts (and therefore will never die), totally EMP safe, machine washable, etc. The system works within 1ms and you can program your entire family. The Government has no backdoors to the technology and 100% of dumb guns are confiscated and melted down to make Priuses. Google creates a new tech feature that prevents new 'dumb' weapons from ever being made.

Now, let's say there is a revolution. Obama fails to step down after 8 years (or for you lefties, say Cheney usurped the executive branch in a coup), the BOR is declared null and void by the Supreme Leader, and finally people realize that being slaves to the government isn't really a great idea.

How can we effectively combat a tyrannical government when the only arms we can use are the ones we personally own and encoded? Your buddy takes a bullet in the brain pan and you're out of ammo, you can't just simply pick his up and return fire. Militias would cease to exist as there would be no way to effectively stock pile weaponry.

If the smart tech only applied to handguns, I'd still argue that it removes a valuable component to combat. Think about the FP-45 Liberator. Concealable weaponry goes a long way in guerrilla combat.
2.4.2009 3:04pm
limaxray:
Now I think all of the non-EMP arguments discussed here are more than enough to point out how silly Smart Guns are. That said, I think EMP should still be a real concern - especially if mandated Smart Guns become a reality.

A lot of people here are looking at EMP weapons as science fiction, simply because it is not a mainstream method of disabling your enemy. This logic is based on the assumption that EMP weapons and Smart Guns as mutually exclusive, which I think is a bad assumption to make - if Smart Guns become common, so will EMP weapons.

As per the reality of EMP weapons:

-A high altitude EMP weapon is, in theory, designed to induce tens, if not thousands, of kV/cm^2 across conductors. At this level, you don't need long power lines, antennas, etc - the traces on a PCB board are more than long enough to induce hundreds of volts in circuits incapable of handling such potentials.

-Proper shielding in such situations is vastly more complex than it may seem. In order for the shielding to be effective, you must insulate the electronics on the inside from the shielding - such insulation is minimal in most electronics today. In this situation where we are talking about multiple kV's, a lot of classic insulators become conductors and thus your shielding turns into a big counter-productive antenna. (look at the insulation of just about any wiring and you'll see a voltage rating, much above this rating the insulation on the wire will actually start conducting electricity itself) Another design constraint is that the entire system needs to be enclosed inside the shielding - running wires outside the shielding to an electromechanical actuator to operate the firearm would defeat the purpose of the shielding to begin with.

Finally, EMP weapons are much more a reality than many may believe. With enough funding, it would be easy enough to assemble a localized directional weapon capable of taking out a building or two. EMP weapons are very simple - first you generate some high voltage DC source, use it to store a huge amount of energy in a very large high voltage capacitor, and then discharge it through something like a big electromagnet. The biggest limitation here are the capacitors needed are very large, expensive and not too common. This is all changing as we speak with the development of 'super capacitors' - 'super capacitors' are smaller and can store much more energy than traditional capacitors, and if they become mainstream, will be a fraction of the cost. A lot of money is being thrown at super caps for use in electric vehicles to replace the battery packs in use today (in theory permitting almost instantaneous recharge times, limited primarily by how much power you can pump into it). Super caps aren't science fiction, they do exist, and it may not be long until one can make a very powerful EMP weapon literally from junk yard parts.

Anyway, I still think there are a good dozen or so better reasons that make Smart Guns not too smart, but as EV suggests, EMP is a nontrivial threat.

(I particularly like the machine gun argument - the most difficult part about making any firearm that fires from a closed bolt fully automatic is delaying the firing pin to allow the bolt to close and lock before it fires - if the firing pin is electronically operated, this would be a VERY simple hack)
2.4.2009 4:08pm
Alec Rawls (mail) (www):
Of course you need to mention the EM pulse risk, if an enemy could disarm the entire populace in one fell swoop with it! That would vitiate the first reason to have a well armed and well regulated militia: that it is necessary to the security of a free state.
2.4.2009 4:20pm
Kirk:
Sarcastro,
I'm not too worried about gang wars weilding 100 year old guns
You should be. The Browning pistol used to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand is still serviceable today (though whoever it is that now has it would be nuts to use it, given its historical value.)
2.4.2009 4:54pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I'm not too worried about gang wars weilding 100 year old guns.
What amazes me is how long "obsolete" guns continued to be criminally misused. As the paper by Joe Olson and myself published recently in Willamette Law Review about pistols and public safety pointed out:


Even the development of the modern revolver by Samuel Colt did not suddenly render the pepperbox obsolete; Americans continue to use pepperboxes for self-defense for several decades after Colt’s invention,[85] and there are indications from medico-legal texts published as late as 1895 that they are not just curiosities.[86]

85. JOHN S. MOSBY, THE MEMOIRS OF COLONEL JOHN S. MOSBY 8 (Charles Wells Russell, ed., Little, Brown, and Co. 1917); JOHN A. JOYCE, A CHECKERED LIFE 135 (Chicago, S.P. Rounds, Jr. 1883); ANSON URIEL HANCOCK, SILHOUETTES FROM LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE, IN THE BACKWOODS 155 (Chicago, C.H. Kerr 1893); WILLIAM ELSEY CONNELLEY, QUANTRILL AND THE BORDER WARS 399 (Torch Press, 1910); FRANK HICKENLOOPER, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF MONROE COUNTY, IOWA 257 (Albia, Ia.: n.pub. 1896).

86. MEDICO-LEGAL SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, BULLETIN OF THE MEDICO-LEGAL CONGRESS, HELD AT THE FEDERAL BUILDING IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 4TH, 5TH AND 6TH, 1895, at 168 (New York: Medico-Legal Journal, 1898).
2.4.2009 5:13pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

You overestimate the rate of firearm innovation. Revolver design is virtually unchanged over the last century. A .38 Special made in 1899 is functionally identical to one made today... and still works.
More importantly--it uses the same ammunition as a modern revolver in .38 Special. I wouldn't use the hottest current loads in an antique--but since a handgun is mostly a threat in the criminal's hands ("Give me your wallet or I'll kill you") and in the law-abiding person's hands ("Go away, or in a few hours, you will either bleed to death, or have to explain to a police officer in an E.R. how you got a bullet wound"), it doesn't require anything but the knowledge that ammunition is readily available.
2.4.2009 5:23pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I do not think that smart guns enable the Militia. Specifically, there will be no (ready) interchangeability of small arms among the Militia. No loaning of weapons, no picking up of weapons from the field or a fallen comrade, etc.
My book Armed America (which not enough of you bought) has considerable discussion of how militiamen were often strongly encouraged (and sometimes forced) to loan spare guns to members of their unit that were too poor to own a gun, or had lost it in previous operations, or had left the one gun that they owned with their family at home.
2.4.2009 5:25pm
Crow (mail):
Any properly trained person should be able to own any weapon.
The weapon itself is not and has never been the problem. It is the misuse by criminals and untrained people that is the problem.
2.4.2009 5:35pm
Ricky1:
If potentially saving 100 children per year is a rationale for mandating "smart" guns, our money would be better spent on smart swimming pools, smart staircases, smart bathtubs, smart tricycles etc.
2.4.2009 7:16pm
Mike99 (mail):
Ah yes, smart guns. To paraphrase Col. Jeff Cooper, they're an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem. Firearms have evolved into simple, reliable, efficient mechanical mechanisms that do precisely what they are designed to do; propel projectiles of varying mass to various ranges and with varying degrees of accuracy. Whether the release of such projectiles is benign, good or bad depends entirely on the biological mechanism in control of the mechanical mechanism. It is this mechanism, not the firearm, that must be rendered safe.

Make no mistake, those clamoring for smart gun technology do not have safety uppermost in their minds, if they think of it at all. They wish only to make firearms so expensive, so unreliable or so difficult to use that their numbers are severely reduced or eliminated completely. It is most telling that all laws proposed to implement such smart guns always exclude the police because the police, even if led by anti-gun administrators, know that such devices are inherently unreliable. Yet, our political betters would be happy to impose such unreliability on all of us.

While the EMP issue is an interesting intellectual exercise, it would be good to recall that all smart gun technology to date has come to nothing for a number of well publicized reasons, among them excessive cost, unreliability, and battery life. In fact, there is no reliable technology that currently exists, or that can be reasonably imagined, available. We just don't have the technology, and are unlikely to develop such technology absent unimaginable breakthroughs in several fields of physics.

Consider only the battery issue and you can easily understand the problem. Most firearms, even those carried by the police, are much carried and almost never fired in anger. But when they are, they must work, every time without fail. When we introduce batteries into the picture, that cannot be reasonably assumed. Remember too that in cold climates, this is a severe problem as batteries lose virtually all of their power, very quickly, in extreme cold and much of their power in even mildly cold conditions.

Again, an interesting intellectual exercise, but perhaps the larger question is "why is this necessary, and what public policy goal could it hope to accomplish?"
2.5.2009 12:45am
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Not only should one worry about RFID jammers, one should worry about other remote electronic attacks. What will we do when someone develops a device that doesn't disable your smart gun from a distance - it fires it?

Every terrorist would want one.

Yours,
Wince
2.5.2009 10:23am
zippypinhead:
Dumb question: We know a few established companies researched "smart gun" technology in the past. In the modern era, companies conducting any type of product-related research typically file patent applications on anything and everything they possibly can. I assume this technology is no different.

Who owns whatever IP there is on the art of smart guns? If, hypothetically speaking, it was a company that has made an irrevocable decision that broadly commercializing the technology would be bad for whatever reason (a view presumably shared by most firearms manufacturers who do not want to put their large and lucrative "dumb gun" business at risk for a monopoly on an unpopular niche product), they are in at least a limited position to impede the further development and deployment of the technology during the life of the patent portfolio. There are some tricky patent law doctrines that complicate the situation if you want to take a "just say no" position, but in general someone who owns IP and does NOT want it used in a particular way has a some ability to block others who wish to proceed in a direction incompatible with the wishes of the IP holder.

Meaning New Jersey might be waiting a loooooong time for its "smart gun" bill to have any meaning...
2.5.2009 2:02pm
Kirk:
Firearms have evolved into simple, reliable, efficient mechanical mechanisms that do precisely what they are designed to do
Just a side note on that "simple, reliable" point: there's been a lot of talk here about the longevity of firearms, but in addition smokeless-powder ammunition itself has a useable shelf life measured in multiple decades.

This might not be so relevant to the main argument, but it does provide an interesting thought experiment: How many electronic devices could have sat on the shelf since their date of manufacture in, say, 1960, and work perfectly when used for the first time today?
2.5.2009 9:05pm
Kirk:
Wince and Nod,

Nobody's talking about electrical firing. The "smart gun" is all about a (very unwise) "safety" mechanism.
2.5.2009 9:07pm

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