It’s hardly a surprise that the legacy media, and its cable analog CNN, would know little or nothing about firearms and willingly leap on any passing anti-freedom bandwagon. Kieron Monks, however, takes the budding “smart gun” craze to new lows. For those aware of these issues, so-called smart guns are nothing new, nor is the fact that the state of their technology isn’t nearly ready for prime time. As I wrote on August 2, 2013 for PJ Media and more recently at my home blog Stately McDaniel Manor . . .
Smart guns are anything but smart and are not only non-viable in the free market, their technology isn’t nearly reliable enough to make them a reasonable alternative. They remain an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem. Still, Monks is undeterred:
As a teenager, Omer Kiyani was shot in the face with an unsecured firearm. He still struggles with the trauma. But the Detroit engineer now believes he has created a device that would have saved him and may save thousands of others.
He calls it ‘Identilock,’ and while it still needs final adjustments to the prototype and further investment, Kiyani expects to launch his smart gun technology in U.S. stores within a year, retailing for around $300.
The device attaches to the trigger of a handgun, which can then only be unlocked by biometric authentication, preventing any unauthorized user from firing the weapon. Drawing on breakthroughs in mobile technology, the trigger is released by similar fingerprint sensors to those used in Apple’s iPhone 5S. Those sensors are approved by the FBI, and widely found in security scanners.
‘The key is reliability,’ says Kiyani. ‘The sensor has proved itself in different sectors over the past few years and the market is aware of its capability.”
There are substantial differences in smart phones and firearms. As observant readers can tell from the photo of the product, this is not a “smart gun,” at all but a very expensive trigger-locking device. Kyani’s professed motivation is to develop a device that is very fast—ostensibly to make self-defense easier—and to prevent accidental shootings of children.
“The main point of firearms ownership is home defense, and home defense means quick access,’ says Kiyani. ‘But the other side of that is accidents.
The inventor believes his experience indicates an urgent and avoidable crisis and the statistics support him. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, 62 children aged one to 14 were killed in firearm accidents in the United States, and 785 from 1999 to 2010 — far higher death tolls than school shootings over the same period.
The death of any child is tragic, but these numbers are misleading. “Children” are normally considered to be older than infants or toddlers, but younger than teenagers. The younger the actual age group, the tinier the numbers of accidental deaths, and the yearly death rate from accidental shootings is at an all time low, and is nowhere near the top of the list. Comparing such things with school shootings is particularly pernicious as they are, while well-publicized, quite rare.
The facts tell a very different story:
The number of privately owned guns in the U.S. is at an all-time high, upwards of 300 million, and now rises by about 10 million per year.1 Meanwhile, the firearm accident death rate has fallen to an all-time low, 0.2 per 100,000 population, down 94% since the all-time high in 1904. Since 1930, the annual number of firearm accident deaths has decreased 81%, while the U.S. population has more than doubled and the number of firearms has quintupled. Among children, such deaths have decreased 89% since 1975. Today, the odds are more than a million to one, against a child in the U.S. dying in a firearm accident.
Firearms are involved in 0.5% of accidental deaths nationally, compared to motor vehicles (29%), poisoning (27%), falls (21%), suffocation (5%), drowning (3%), fires (2%), medical mistakes (1.7%), environmental factors (1.3%), and pedal cycles (0.6%). Among children: motor vehicles (34%), suffocation (27%), drowning (17%), fires (7%), environmental factors (2.3%), poisoning (2.2%), falls (1.5%), firearm (1.5), pedal cycles (1.4%), and medical mistakes (1.3%).
The article also mentions the Armatix iP1, a .22LR caliber smart gun relying on an accompanying watch/transmitter. For a supposedly ground-breaking product, the primary ground broken is in a lack of affordability, as the gun costs $1399 and the watch $399. This is supposedly the vanguard of a veritable new technological flood:
There is now an increased appetite and funding for a field that had stalled since the earlier designs in the 1970s. The boldest statement is an open challenge from The Smart Tech Foundation. It was created by Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway and serial entrepreneur Jim Pitkow in response to the Sandy Hook shootings and is making $1 million in prizes available for development of the best ideas.”smart guns” save lives.
The Foundation claims to have received over 200 entrants after the first month of the submission period, everything from concept stage to working prototype. Designs include electronic ammunition, remote controls and RFID chips buried in the owner’s skin.
Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have been developing biometric designs since 1999. The leader of that program, Donald Sebastian, has seen many false dawns but is more confident than ever.
‘The difference now to a decade ago is that there are more types of technology and they are all much better. Biometric technology failed one time out of four then, now we aim for one in 10,000 failure rates’, says Sebastian. ‘The reliability of the safety needs to exceed that of the underlying firing mechanism, so there is never a discussion that the gun wouldn’t work because of the technology.
Sebastian has hit upon the most significant issue—outside of price and the restriction of liberty—inherent in smart guns. But Sebastian is painting a hopeful picture:
Sebastian’s view is borne out by 2013 research into gun safety technology from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The report tested reliability in a range of RFID and biometric designs against existing firearms, and gave several ratings of ‘Advanced Prototype or Production-Ready.’ ‘It is only recently that viable product designs have reached a commercializable or production-ready level of maturity,’ the report stated.
And what is the promising new technology?
NJIT remains at the vanguard, working with ‘Dynamic Grip Recognition,’ perhaps the most ambitious system in development. The design uses a battery of sensors to build a ‘movie’ of the user, learning the size and weight of their grip, and even their tics and manner with the gun to be sure of authorizing the correct user.
As sensor technology continues to improve, the scope for progress is exponential, says Sebastian. A new prototype will be unveiled in June, promising to improve speed and accuracy, using an enhanced microprocessor that draws less power and needs less space.
This design is the result of collaboration with military partners Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. Beyond their technical expertise, Sebastian recognizes what military involvement could do for public acceptance ahead of a commercial launch and manufacturing.
The technology we have developed is primarily for the civilian population, but to gain traction in those communities it needs to be used and endorsed by icons of gun ownership such as police and military,” says Sebastian.
Sebastian sees a substantial military market primarily due to the attacks on American troops in Afghanistan by indigenous forces. Unfortunately, such shootings have little or nothing to do with unauthorized persons using someone’s weapon against them. Sebastian’s hopes are based on a false premise.
And the more complex the system, the more likely it is to be unreliable. A system that “learns” the “size and weight” of an owner’s grip, as well as their “tics and manner,” is obviously inherently unreliable to the experienced shooter. How could such a system recognize the shooter’s left hand? What if the shooter’s strong hand were injured, or if in moments of high stress, they gripped the weapon with unusual strength and/or patterns? Such technology would seem, on its face, to be outsmarting itself.
Injecting a bit of reality, a recent National Shooting Sports Foundation poll indicated that only 14 of Americans might be willing to buy a smart gun, and most people reasonably believe them to be unreliable.
The major gun manufacturers have also been wary. Sebastian works with major gun manufacturers and believes their reluctance stems partly from fears that once the first smart guns are established, the technology will become mandatory. He sympathizes: ‘It would be better if the transformation came through market demand rather than regulatory pressure.’
Such fears may be justified. In 2002, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to legislate that new guns must be personalized within three years of the technology becoming available. The idea is also gaining currency across Europe.
Should such mandates be enacted, or if the new designs find a strong market, the drip-drip of smart gun innovation may well become a flood.
There is good reason indeed to believe that the goal of most proponents of smart guns is the restriction of liberty rather than public safety. Some pointed to Jame’s Bond’s “smart” Walther PPK in Skyfall, a gun that by never explicitly explained means, “read” his hand. In one scene, that feature saved Bond’s life when a villain tried to shoot him with the gun. But even in fiction, reality intruded. In a subsequent scene, Bond was holding his Walther while wearing gloves—which would presumably render his weapon inert—and in another, Bond was able to seize a villain’s gun and shoot a brace of cutthroats. If that had been a smart gun, Bond would have been killed and the Bond franchise obliterated.
Implanting RIFD chips in people has an inherently creepy, tyrannical quality, and is hardly a solution. Absent a far greater need and benefit than is promised by smart guns, few Americans are likely to willingly undergo such implantation. Police officers may have to use each other’s weapons, which is a primary reason the police have never been enthusiastic, and a handgun that a man’s wife or other family members can’t immediately and reliably use if necessary is a very expensive and potentially deadly weapon, not to attackers, but to the family.
There are now some 300 million firearms in citizen’s hands—far more than at any time in history–with some ten million more being added yearly, yet firearm accidents for all ages are at all time lows. Avoidance of accidents is easily accomplished by simple and easily learned safety procedures such as muzzle awareness and keeping one’s trigger finger in register, outside the trigger guard, until milliseconds before pulling the trigger.
“If it saves even one life, it’s worth mandating,” demagogues cry. No. It’s dangerous and irresponsible to make public policy based on slogans. If this were true, we’d be obligated to do away with motor vehicles, swimming pools, ladders and other potential dangers long before firearms.
Could “smart guns” be useful to some people in some ways? Certainly, but not at exorbitant prices, not if the mechanisms are at least as reliable as the weapons themselves in all possible environmental conditions, and never under the flood of governmental mandate. If government has to mandate them, one may be certain it has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with amassing power at the expense of individual rights. When government is all-powerful, no citizen is safe.