NPR Highlights Problems with ‘Smart’ Guns

Smart gun (courtesy popsci.com)

All Things Considered is an iconic program from National Public Radio (NPR). They have a reliably “progressive” approach to the world. Sometimes they stumble onto inconvenient truths. That happened a month ago when NPR ran this story on how a naive investor pushed Colt to develop a so called “smart” gun, which is actually a very stupid gun . . .

First, the push for the “stupid” gun came from the new owner of the company, Donald Zilkha, a banker from New York City. He didn’t own a gun (go figure). I suspect he knew nothing of American gun culture. He made a very human mistake. He assumed that everybody thought about, and had assumptions about the universe that were the same as his. From NPR:

ZILKHA: Initially, I thought this would be something that could be adapted over 20-30 years and everybody would say, wow, this is a good way to own a handgun.

ROSE: But almost right away, Zilkha discovered that the customers he imagined were not as enthusiastic as he was. Let’s start with police. Stephen Albanese is a retired New York City police officer.

For 20 years, it was his job to make sure the department’s guns worked like they were supposed to. Albanese says he and other officers weren’t sure they could trust smart guns to fire every time.

If the owner of the company tells you they want something, especially if they have no cultural connection with you, people are loathe to contradict them. It takes great courage to risk your job in an already shaky company with a new owner.

Somehow, through miscommunication or misunderstanding, Zilkha thought that Colt engineers had made the company’s “stupid” gun reliable. He scheduled a demonstration with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. I have a hard time imaginging the pressure that the Colt engineers were under.

So, in a near laboratory environment, on Colt’s terms, at their range, without weather, blood, hand-to-hand combat, or long storage times, the reporter, Vanessa O’Connell, watched the demonstration. It failed. Spectacularly.

From NPR:

ROSE: The timing was awful. Just when Colt needed to convince potential customers they could trust this new smart gun, here’s a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal saying they can’t. Not long after, Colt pulled the plug on smart gun research. Seventeen years later, no American gun company wants to pick up where Colt left off. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

The fact is that “stupid” gun technology is a really stupid idea, virtually designed to make guns fail. It operates under the assumption that it is better for a gun not to fire than to fire. Proponents of the idea are either blissfully ignorant of real world problems or simply love the idea of making guns less reliable.

As RF pointed out in a previous post, “smart” guns present three basic problems that cannot be overcome technologically.

First, they use electricity, so they’re dependent on batteries. Batteries are one of the components most prone to failure. Not because of the design of the batteries, but because of their nature. They are time limited. They have a shelf life. They use up the power that they have stored. Batteries introduce multiple points of failure into a firearm that are not there without them.

Second, because they are electronic systems, they’re subject to jamming and interference. Have you ever had your phone lose a call, for no apparent reason? Similar problems apply to electronic gun controls.

Third, the design function of the system is to restrict the use of the gun to a very small number of people. Yet one of the great positives about a gun is that it can be used by a large number of people, reliably.

Your partner may need to pick up the gun that you left behind to answer the door, now that you are down and fighting for your life with the home invader. Your child may need to pick up the gun and defend themselves from the burglar that just broke in. Your neighbor may need to use the gun as part of a neighborhood security system during a riot, or after a hurricane, tornado or flood.

Gun owners don’t want so-called “smart” guns. They have demonstrated this in the marketplace with existing systems that are more reliable than many proposed ones. Gun owners, from across the United States, including the military and police, reject the idea that this stupid idea is in any way smart. As usual, with many simplistic solutions to complex problems, it doesn’t work.

It’s nice to see NPR make this important point to its nationwide audience. Many people who would reject the NRA as a source out of hand may accept the story coming from NPR.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Gun Watch

comments

  1. avatar DaveL says:

    If the system doesn’t rely on an external signal, it can be pretty easily shielded against outside interference. The problem is with RFID-based designs, which rely on reading a clear RF signal from an outside source. That’s inherently vulnerable to jamming. The system enjoys the advantage of distance and bandwidth (it’s closer and it knows what frequency to put its power into), but it’s handicapped by size and stamina (it has to work for months on whatever battery fits in the gun) and therefore by raw power.

    The other major contender right now uses fingerprint technology, which has the fundamental limitation of not working when you’re wearing gloves.

    1. avatar Clark45 says:

      Any fingerprint scanner I have used or seen used is also susceptible to getting a “bad” read (aka failing) if the user’s thumb is skewed a few degrees one way or another, or sweaty, or dirty, or not held still on the scanner for the necessary amount of time.

      I cannot imagine one that would work reliably on a handgun, especially in a high stress, potentially bloody situation.

      Just say NO to “smart” guns.

      1. avatar Ricebrnr says:

        Not to mention that in a fight your hands might get bloody…I might REALLY want my gun to work before things get worse..

    2. avatar ThomasR says:

      Finger print readers?? Ummm, no. I work at a place where we have a safe activated by our F.P’s. I work alot with my hands that gets dirt ingrained in the whorls, as well as cracks in the skin. More than half the time the sensor can’t read my prints.

      1. avatar Timmy! says:

        Off topic but, I really dig the word “whorls” for some reason. Ok, now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

        1. avatar Patrick says:

          +1

      2. avatar RH says:

        I have burn scars on 2 of my right fingers and my right thumb that just show as incomplete prints on fingerprint scanners. I guess biometric guns aren’t for me. “Smart” systems are only as good as the programming will allow.

        1. avatar sagebrushracer says:

          you should see Robot and Frank.

          Near future type of film, retired ex-con with memory issues gets a robot assistant, and he teaches it to pick locks and crack safes. Good movie, and another reason why AI might be great, but technology is not the answer to everything.

    3. avatar Resident CT says:

      I have to “refresh” my fingerprint scan on my tablet every so often as it begins to not recognize me, I attribute it to wear on my fingers from manual work I do that wears off my fingerprints. Imagine a gun that forgets who you are when you most need it. A tablet isn’t life or death but it is fairly inconvenient as it has happened after I forgot my password while I was on the road and the tablet locked me out. Worked just good enough to get me into trouble by trusting it.

    4. avatar Kaban says:

      THE problem is that today, only RFID/NFC designs appear to show some promise. Modern biometrics are slow, unreliable, preclude use of gloves, and whatnot. Of course, its contender is not exactly better.

  2. avatar Joe R. says:

    NPR is gov’t funded opposition to all things good. If it was worth it, it would be self funded. Every state has a state funded liberal progressive communist ‘think tank’ and mouth piece to offer a “balance” to information out there, and they’re all more deleterios than ‘worthless’, they are POS. It doesn’t matter if they throw you a bone every now and then, we’ve already decided liberalism_progressiveism_communism is worth killing over (we’ve set up monuments around the world to show how bad we want to destroy it, and sadly many fill parts if Arlington National Cemetary) and that’s not gonna change.
    Further, if there’s a good idea out there (on anything) you could not shove it far enough up their #2 chute to get it through their heads.

    A “smart-gun” is a very small club (bludgeon) and their owners should make only a very small club too. YOU should not be one of them.

    1. avatar 16V says:

      74+% of NPR funding is individuals, corporations, foundations, and colleges. There is about 15% of the revenue that comes from CPB and Fedzilla.

      http://www.npr.org/about-npr/178660742/public-radio-finances

      The first time I ever heard of John Lott, he was on NPR, probably a decade ago.

      NPR has a new president du jour. This one has been focused on making even more corporate money, and making the network more reflective of who their listeners really are – we are not all mindless progs. They recently had a very nice piece on the relo of the Beretta factory for instance.

      It’s always had tons of cringe-worthy short sighted immigration views, calls illegals ‘undocumented’ and the whole raft of “isn’t this horrible for these poor people whomever they” are nonsense. All the while ignoring that we can’t let 3B people in here just because their lives suck. NPR has their problems to be sure. But I do listen to NPR, if only because if I’m going to have an intelligent argument, it’s gonna be with people who think like that. Besides, there’s no other shows like Science Friday, Wait Wait, and the like anywhere else.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        What he said.

        NPR ain’t pretty, but they do surprise *sometimes* with some even-handed reporting on the 2A.

        For years I’ve listened to AOR rock-n-roll on the morning-evening drive into work and NPR to de-compress on the drive back home.

        1. avatar JasonM says:

          N(P)RA?

      2. avatar Other Tony says:

        I listen to NPR. I am an NRA member, 2A supporter. I think many NPR programs lean a bit left but they do try to show more than one side of things. And recent prime time NPR news programs have played John Lott and other 2A supporters making their own arguments in their own words.

      3. avatar Another Robert says:

        I guess it’s a good thing some of you can find something good on NPR besides Click and Clack. I used to listen to some of the music programs, but for the most part even their “entertainment” programs are hopelessly brain-dead liberal, and the so-called “news” is almost guaranteed to raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels. I guess every so often reality has to intrude even at NPR, as in this case.

      4. avatar barnbwt says:

        Yeah, Corporations and Foundations like Joyce, Bill & Melinda Gates, Bloomberg, Clinton, and freakin’ Plowshares. All deeply intertwined and inseparable with various governments, all devoted to statist supremacy and civilian disarmament. Sorry, it’s the truth. Very incestuous relationship between the government, education facilities, marketing organizations, and think tanks which all serve propaganda in concert with each other (whether it is or is not a formal conspiracy, the end result is the same self-reinforcing statist agenda)

        1. avatar 16V says:

          barnbwt, No disagreement, and it certainly colors things. As I said there is plenty of insane East Coast Prog drivel. But there are interesting stories at times, explored in far greater depth than any other source would ever do.

          Wheat, chaff, separate, repeat.

          Another Robert, Not all things are for all people. There are times when I scream the long form of “BS!” at the NPR-tuned radio, then change over to something else. If that something else is the local Fox affiliate, it’ll likely happen again. Oh well.

  3. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

    When my “smart phone” doesn’t route me through Botswana every time I request Siri to navigate to Hurst, Texas, then maybe I’ll be a little more open minded about “smart gun” technology…

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      gonna need to buy one of those duck boat truck things…

      1. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

        Was that a (Michael Keaton) Batman reference?

      2. avatar Geoff PR says:

        “gonna need to buy one of those duck boat truck things…”

        You might get a good deal on one in Boston, after it ran over a young woman a few days ago:

        “The duck boat that killed a woman driving a scooter on Saturday morning in Boston is not the first fatality involving the popular tour vehicles that run on land and water.”

        https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/04/30/fatal-duck-boat-crashes-not-uncommon/7sHusSnCEIRnCOcf2nGiYL/story.html

        1. avatar Shire-man says:

          Sentient boat did it all by itself I see. lol

        2. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

          http://www.jayohrberg.com/Batman_Returns_Duckmobile.html

          This is what immediately pops into my mine…

          Which of this was running folks over in the streets, would be both hilarious and terrifying.

        3. avatar Stinkeye says:

          Another senseless child victim of “duck boat violence”. Only the police and military should have duck boats.

    2. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “When my “smart phone” doesn’t route me through Botswana…”

      Well, there’s your problem, right there.

      Route your calls through the endless long-distance toll-trunks leased by the Nigerian phone scammers…

  4. avatar garydrigg says:

    Nazi Party Radio has never supported anything ‘smart’.

    1. avatar Billy-bob says:

      The Schwetty balls were pretty good.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Too salty.

        (God, I *hate* Alec Baldwin with a passion like I hate cockroaches.)

        1. avatar 16V says:

          Even the ‘Always Be Closing’ speech from Glengarry Glen Ross?

        2. avatar Geoff PR says:

          Never seen the movie, but I’ll take your word on it.

          Just looked the clip on the ‘Tube and… It’s a typical high-pressure sales pitch.

          An effective one, but still a high-pressure sales pitch.

          Those kinds of ‘salesman’ give a me a *very* visceral negative reaction.

          Their motivation is themselves, not the customer. They will say anything, do anything to get that sale, fvck what the customer’s needs are.

          When I’ve been exposed to that type of sales tactic at new car dealers, I get the fvck out there *fast*.

          That’s just how I roll on that kind of stunt…

        3. avatar 16V says:

          I wasn’t praising it in the abstract, more as a study in pathos. Of course the whole play/movie is a study of desperation and pathos.

          Never my kind of sales either.

        4. avatar Geoff PR says:

          Alright, I can see that on the pathos.

          When it comes to pathos, it’s tough to beat Tarantino’s vivid depiction of it in nearly every movie he’s made.

          Like this:

        5. avatar 16V says:

          Classic.

          Everybody wants to be Mr Black…

  5. avatar Stephen J says:

    When Obama started crying and then brought these abortions up in a national address I rolled my eyes so hard I saw the inside of my skull. Only people completely ignorant about firearms consider these as anything other than a joke.

  6. avatar FormerWaterWalker says:

    Even a stopped clock…you can’t stop “progress”-or can you? In the world of glitches a “smartgun” is pretty freakin’ dumb…

  7. avatar Matt in Oklahoma says:

    Wait until an emp or bad guys carry jammers like the cell phone and radio ones they are using now.

  8. avatar Just some guy says:

    As both a gun owner and a techie, I welcome the R&D into smart gun technology.
    I do completely agree that the currently, we’re just not there yet. They are not at a stage where they are completely reliable and I would not purchase one of the current offerings.

    I also completely agree that it should not be forced to be used by anyone who chooses not to nor anyone whose job relies on a working firearm.

    However, I see it necessary to continue research. The potentiality of soldiers having weapons that cannot be turned back on them, parents who do not have to worry about their children accidentally discharging, abused spouses seeking to protect themselves not worrying about having their weapon turned on them, assailants unable to turn a carriers own gun on them in a struggle, all are possible. Not yet, unfortunately, but possible as technology advances. And I welcome that possibility, even if it never reaches that level of reliability in my lifetime.

    I also believe that the rhetoric used in many articles like this does more harm than good. Using this platform to belittle, divide, and demonize those who disagree, hurts gun owners in the long run.

    When we as gun owners refuse to come to the table and make inroads with others, then the conversations are held without us. When we don’t come to the table, decisions are made without us.

    We have more in common with those that wish to impose restrictions and bans than we realize, we mainly just disagree on the methods. We need to understand each other and partner with each other, not attack and polarize. At the most basic level, we want the same things: to be safe, to be independent, to be unafraid. If we can start with the basics, ignore the politicized rhetoric and the overly vocal members on the extreme of both sides, we can reach a consensus.

    Not everyone who disagrees with guns is out to get us and assuming all that disagree are enemies, makes sure they become enemies when we attack them first.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “When we as gun owners refuse to come to the table and make inroads with others, then the conversations are held without us. When we don’t come to the table, decisions are made without us.”

      There is no negotiation with evil.

      And if you don’t think they are evil, you are seriously delusional.

      We have given, given, and given again.

      It is never enough for them.

      If they want to manufacture and sell a ‘smart gun’, let them.

      They will eventually demand it to be mandatory.

      It’s what they do, It’s ALL THEY DO!

      *NO*

      Full stop…

      1. avatar Just some guy says:

        Assuming those that disagree are evil.

        Calling someone who does not share your complete point of view delusional.

        Assuming those that disagree are all alike, are all out to get us and our guns.

        This the the hard-line, very one sided position I was speaking of. This creates enemies where they didn’t exist before.

        Are there people who want to make it mandatory? Absolutely, but not the majority.
        Are there those that can be considered “enemies” to gun owners? Absolutely, but not the majority.

        The farther away our position moves from the middle, the closer to the middle and the more sensible the positions in opposition become and more people will agree with those.

        1. avatar 16V says:

          We have more in common with those that wish to impose restrictions and bans than we realize, we mainly just disagree on the methods. We need to understand each other and partner with each other, not attack and polarize.

          You got a frog in your pocket? Because I have very little in common with those who would like to ban or restrict us further. Disagree on methods? Yes, they believe in a totalitarian police state, and most of us believe in free will, and the right to armed self defense.

          You make the fallacious assumption that those who would ban and impose restrict are capable of understanding, and partnering. If they were able to be reasonable and rational, we would not be having this conversation – the 2A says what it does, arguing about it is as pointless as arguing about free speech.

          Amusing naivte you harbor. But it’s not the real world.

    2. avatar Rusty Chains says:

      Just some guy, you fail to consider the high probability that many state governments given a functional “smart” gun will mandate all guns sold will be smart guns. This is already the law in NJ. The fear of the reach of government is the reason for the 2nd Amendment in the first place!

      1. avatar Just some guy says:

        I completely agree with you and I do not fail to consider it a possibility. That is why we need to to be a part of the conversation.

        This does not mean that we should abandon the research.

        1. avatar Evan in Dallas says:

          This is the problem with the tech generation. There are some “problems” that just don’t need solving. Or we pursue a complicated solution when a simple one makes more sense.

        2. avatar gearshiv says:

          Mr zilkaha is that you ?

    3. avatar Chip in Florida says:

      “..However, I see it necessary to continue research. The potentiality of soldiers having weapons that cannot be turned back on them, parents who do not have to worry about their children accidentally discharging, abused spouses seeking to protect themselves not worrying about having their weapon turned on them, assailants unable to turn a carriers own gun on them in a struggle, all are possible. ”

      Yes. But very much no.

      How often do any of those things happen. I mean really happen? And why is something that happens so infrequently as to be statistically zero something suddenly a worth while reason to push tech I don’t want onto products that don’t need it?

      The florida mom who recently got shot in the back by her kid, that is stupidity on her part and trying to add tech to -my- firearms because -she- did something stupid is why there is so much pushback against so-called Smart Guns.

      1. avatar Stinkeye says:

        Smart guns for the military in particular is a terrible idea. It’s got to be a thousand times more likely that a soldier would need to use a fallen comrade’s weapon than that he’d be shot with his own gun by an enemy.

        As for children, we don’t need “smart” guns to solve that problem. We need smarter parents not acting irresponsibly.

    4. avatar Shire-man says:

      You’re assuming people who remain willfully ignorant are reasonable.
      I’m not sure how many morons you’ve had the pleasure of engaging in discourse with but there is simply no point to talking with people who fear “shoulder things that go up.”

      Especially not when attempting to explain aesthetics and function is met with “you want children to die blahhhhrghghghghg!!!”

      Compromise is always futile. Compromise with a screaming retard who knows nothing of the subject at hand is absolute madness akin to handing the keys of your home to the first lunatic to froth at your front door because feelz.

      1. avatar Evan in Dallas says:

        It’s true, there are some people you can’t talk with. People in the middle, sure, but those who actively push for smart guns, not so much.

      2. avatar Priest of the center mass says:

        Use of retard is ignorant in this disscussion.
        It’s derogatory and nothing short of medical bigotry.
        Im certain that your a good person that just converts frustration into insults.
        People with special medical needs are close to me so i feel the need to interject whenever i see this misused.
        Thanks for your consideration folks

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          “Use of retard is ignorant in this disscussion.”

          OK, I’m willing to be reasonable.

          How about ‘Intellectually Challenged’?

          🙂

        2. avatar 16V says:

          The corrosive nature of politically correct speech is anathema to free speech. It’s renaming things something that they aren’t, in order to obfuscate what they actually are. I’m sorry if you know someone who is retarded, but there is nothing inherently wrong with being retarded. It’s a condition, nothing more. Calling it something else does them no actual good. More importantly, it infringes on what words people choose to use.

    5. avatar Matt in Oklahoma says:

      Yes like the abuser won’t just get a bat or throw them through the dining room table like before, soldiers usually fight others with their own weapons and what do you do about their knives hanging on the gear? Can make that smart. If you get the carrier down you can also take the technology that operates the weapon in many cases. Soldiers will all need to be able to operate that weapon so it won’t be fingerprinted it will be a device.

    6. avatar DaveL says:

      I have no problem with research and innovation. I do have a problem with pretending that fundamental limitations are in fact just minor glitches whose solutions are around the corner, just because “gee whiz, wouldn’t it be neat if they really worked like in the movies?”

    7. avatar Aerindel says:

      Glad to see not everyone here is a luddite. Agree on all points.

      We aren’t there yet, and it may be decades or centuries until we are, but taken by itself smart weapons are not an inherently bad idea if properly made.

    8. avatar Von Schmitto says:

      “We have more in common with those that wish to impose restrictions and bans than we realize….”

      I don’t have one fucking thing in common with them. You may, but “we” don’t.

  9. avatar Rusty Chains says:

    My Google Nexus phone has a fingerprint scanner that works well. Unfortunately, well for a phone isn’t nearly good enough for a firearm. While one of the three fingers I recorded almost always works eventually, I frequently have to try multiple times or multiple fingers. Faster and simpler than entering a password on a phone but not acceptable for a defensive firearm that must work first time, every time.

  10. avatar Anonymous says:

    The fact is that “stupid” gun technology is a really stupid idea, virtually designed to make guns fail. It operates under the assumption that it is better for a gun not to fire than to fire. Proponents of the idea are either blissfully ignorant of real world problems or simply love the idea of making guns less reliable.

    This! This says it all right here. Copy and paste it!

  11. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

    I would be interested in electronic trigger technology though. You could make a really nice trigger that has perfect characteristics since it doesn’t have to move a striker spring or cock a hammer.

    1. avatar 16V says:

      Been around for decades, coming and going in finished prototypes.

      Think one was on an Olympic .22 long ago, but not sure.

      http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gear/reviews/a211/1277311/

      1. avatar 16V says:

        Forgetting the name was driving me nuts…

        http://www.morini.ch/company.php

        They’re had them on Olympic .22s since the mid 80s.

      2. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

        Cool! Thanks for the link!

  12. avatar Will Drider says:

    STOP calling them “smart guns”. They are Identification Restricted Firearm Systems (IRFS). There is nothing smart about them or the people that are pushing this failure technology on us. We must fight this just like the miss use of the term assualt weapon verses modern sporting rifle.

  13. avatar J says:

    Unless both sides are equally handicapped, then no to smart guns.

  14. avatar Bob says:

    Man these things would be great,
    ’cause then we could all get chips implanted in us and the .gov could designate who we can and can’t shoot at any given moment (like blue Force tracker devices) We could have a cool national broadcast signal to ID enemies of the state and hunt them for bounty, or to get our daily allotment of Soylent green.

    Thanks uncle gov, your the bestest.

  15. avatar Priest of the center mass says:

    So?…….they seem to work in comics and movies eh?.
    Reality vrs fiction?
    We should just ask kanye west what he can offer on the subject.
    That should be a winner!

  16. avatar Noah Mains says:

    Counterpoint: there is a legitimate reason to equip military weapons with “smart” features, and that’s in firearms for export or use by “allied” forces. If we’re lending M16s out to Afghani police forces, it’d be kinda nice to have a remote kill switch. Heaven knows we’ve too many green-on-blue attacks.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “…it’d be kinda nice to have a remote kill switch.”

      NEVER on a civilian gun.

      Bet your ass the thugs will get that tech.

      I want it on every Government jack-booted thug gun, though. With every citizen having the kill switch…

  17. avatar passthebrass says:

    Why do we allow these machines built for war to run rampant on our streets!?

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      Like cars and trucks? 🙂

    2. avatar Aerindel says:

      Because we ARE at war and life is a battlefield.

  18. avatar Wright says:

    With ideas like this, no wonder Colt went bankrupt.

  19. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    Smart Guns should be mandated for high speed low drag military and police operators. All gun controls should apply to all military and police since they are qualified and vetted professionals whom should set an example to us lowly serfs.

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