Do We Really Need a ‘Smart’ Gun?

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              Every few years the media carries a story on some company that is in the process of developing a ‘smart’ gun, which is a gun that can only be fired by someone who is identified either as the owner of the gun or is allowed to use the gun. The identification process is usually the same process that you can find on many cell phones which contain a fingerprint scanner that automatically unlocks the phone.

              This whole ‘smart gun’ business actually started back in the 1990’s, when Smith & Wesson spent money from government grants to develop this technology. The company never put its resources behind the effort, and eventually the patents were purchased by a venture capitalist, Ron Conway, who then put together a tax-exempt foundation to develop a smart gun design, a deal which eventually went nowhere fast.

              It turns out that one state, New Jersey, actually has a law on the books which requires licensed gun dealers to stock at least one smart gun in their stores. But the law doesn’t take effect unless the dealers can stock smart guns which as of this writing, still don’t exist. In 2014 a German company, Armatix, started shipping a smart gun to the United States but it was quickly pulled from the market when the internet carried stories about hackers who were able to easily jam the electronic mechanism which unlocked the gun.

              The much bigger problem for the smart gun manufacturers is the question of price. The word going around is that a company named Lodestar, which is beginning to get noticed by the media for its smart gun, will set an MSRP of $895, which is about $500 cheaper than the retail cost of an Armatix, and a thousand bucks cheaper than a smart gun being developed by  a company called SmartGunz, a Kansas outfit which has yet to actually produce a working gun.

              I own and carry a Glock 17 pistol, and because I live in Massachusetts, I must keep the gun safely locked unless I’m holding it in my hands. When I bought the gun it came with a trigger lock, courtesy of a 2005 federal law which requires that every gun manufactured in the USA (or imported into the country for commercial sale) be shipped with a trigger lock or some other locking device, free of charge.

              If I wanted to buy a safety device to lock my gun and render it inoperable unless the locking device is removed, I could pick one up at the local gun shop for a few bucks, or I could go to the local police station which probably distributes free gun locks courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF.)

              What’s the advantage of an electronic security device over my little trigger lock which came with the gun? If it works, in theory I can disable the gun lock at the same time that I am pulling out the gun.

So, the question is this: Do I want to spend somewhere between $500 and $1,000 which will allow me to get my Glock ready to be fired at the ‘bad guy’ trying to break into my house or coming up behind me as I pull some cash out of the ATM?

              The point is that if the gun is being carried around as a self-defense weapon, even the states with the strictest laws on locking up guns exempt the gun owner from keeping the gun locked if he could reach the weapon with either hand.

              What the smart gun people say is that the real reason for owning a smart gun is to reduce the possibility that a child will somehow get his hands on the gun, and we don’t want to think about what that means, okay?

              Back in 2014 an accidental shooting occurred in an Idaho Walmart the day after Christmas, when a two-year old child reached into his mother’s purse, pulled the trigger of her legally owned handgun, and shot her dead.

              Leaving aside the question of why this poor lady felt it necessary to arm herself for a trip to Walmart in Hayden, Idaho, the more important question is this: even if a smart gun would have prevented this terrible accident from happening, what are the odds that violence of this sort represents a serious public health problem in the United States?

              We don’t know how many youngsters accidentally kill someone with a gun on a regular basis, because the CDC tracks victims, not perpetrators of shooting events. But if we can assume that the age of a victim and the age of a perpetrator in accidental shootings is more or less the same, the percentage of all 2020-gun fatalities involving a shooter under the age of 12 was .001% of all the gun deaths which occurred that year.

              In other words, if we want to use technology to help us reduce the 45,000 annual gun deaths that suffer, should the accidental gun deaths of children who pick up a gun without knowing what they are doing be an issue which should rank high on our list?

Anna Kucirkova: Apropos of Smart Guns – Does the Fingerprint Scanner on Your Phone Really Keep It Secure?

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As the news continues to report hacking incidents, both personal and corporate, we are becoming more aware of and concerned about the privacy of our digital devices. We want to be sure that our private information stays private and can’t be easily accessed by hackers.

Thankfully, the major phone manufacturers are coming up with additional security options for the most ubiquitous of these devices – the smartphone. Most smartphones now come with with fingerprint scanning technology.

Of course, that raises the question: does it really work?

How to Unlock a Smartphone


It’s easy to remember a PIN, as we have been using them for decades for various security purposes. But what other ways can we secure our smartphones?

Most industry experts agree that PINs are the most secure method, but they can be inconvenient. It gets tiring to have to unlock your phone with a PIN hundreds of times every day. Luckily, there are other options.


This method is when you trace a pre-chosen line through a grid of dots. It is more convenient, though some consider it less secure.


The design of your phone can make this feature awkward and difficult to use. But, they are incredibly fast and just takes a bit of time to adjust to.


This uses sensors on the front of your phone to identify you and unlock the phone. Iris scanning is very secure, but it does have some bad points: it doesn’t work well in low light, it has trouble scanning through eyeglasses, and you have to hold the phone very close to your face.


This newest method of unlocking your phone uses the front-facing camera to identify you. This is less secure as siblings or others who share similar features with you could unlock your phone with their face.

Fingerprint Scanner Technology

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Fingerprint scanners have been considered spy level tech for decades. But in the past few years, fingerprint scanners have become ubiquitous. They have been particularly useful in law enforcement and identity security.

The same light sensor system used in digital cameras (CCD) is used in optical scanning software. It is an array of light-sensitive diodes called photosites that create electrical signals in response to light photons. Every photosite records a pixel, and the pixels form an image of the scanned item (like a finger).

According to Tom Harris from How Stuff Works:

The scanning process starts when you place your finger on a glass plate, and a CCD camera takes a picture. The scanner has its own light source, typically an array of light-emitting diodes, to illuminate the ridges of the finger. The CCD system actually generates an inverted image of the finger, with darker areas representing more reflected light (the ridges of the finger) and lighter areas representing less reflected light (the valleys between the ridges).

The scanner processor ensures a clear image, checks the pixel darkness, and rejects the scan if the image is too light or too dark. When an image is rejected, the scanner adjusts exposure time and tries the scan again.

When the scanner has a fingerprint image with good definition, Harris says, “a line running perpendicular to the ridges will be made up of alternating sections of very dark pixels and very light pixels.”

When a processor has a crisp, properly exposed image, it compares the captured fingerprint with other prints on file.

Capacitive fingerprint scanners use electrical current instead of light to define the fingerprint. The sensor is made of one or more semiconductor chips with an array of tiny cells. Every cell has two conductor plates, covered by an insulated layer. The image is amplified by the varying input and output of voltage. This creates the fingerprint image.

A third, more recent development is the Ultrasonic Scanner. The hardware is both an ultrasonic transmitter and receiver. The ultrasonic pulse is transmitted against the finger to be scanned. Absorption and rebound occur depending on ridges, pores, and other fingerprint details. This provides a 3D version technique to make it an even more secure than capacitive scanners.

Hacking Fingerprints

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One critical concern for the general public regarding fingerprint technology is the ease of hacking. It seems impossible, but it is not.

Russell Brandon, from The Vergelamented:

In five minutes, a single person faked a fingerprint and broke into my phone. It was simple, a trick the biometrics firm Vkansee has been playing at trade shows for months now. All it took was some dental mold to take a cast, some play-dough to fill it, and then a little trial and error to line up the play-dough on the fingerprint reader. We did it twice with the same print: once on an iPhone 6 and once on a Galaxy S6 Edge. As hacks go, it ranks just a little harder than steaming open a letter.

Of course, this method only works if you have help from the person who can unlock the system. It’s also a very primitive way to get around fingerprint scanning. Some hackers use a 3D-printed mold created from a stored image of a fingerprint. In fact, Brandon said, “At the CCC conference in 2014, a security researcher called Starbug used those techniques to construct a working model of the German defense minister’s fingerprint, based on a high-res photograph of the minister’s hand.”

Despite security and firewalls, fingerprints can still be stolen. Unlike PINs and passcodes, your fingerprint cannot be changed. One credential theft creates a lifetime vulnerability.

However, there are times when having a fingerprint lock could actually help law enforcement.

When the San Bernardino government agents were working to unlock the iPhone linked to the mass shooting, the iPhone did not have a fingerprint reader. Had the suspect been in possession of a more updated phone with fingerprint tech, the investigators could simply have taken the phone to the morgue where the shooter’s body was being held and placed his finger on scanner, thus, unlocking the phone. When the police have a non-cooperating suspect, they can secure a warrant forcing the suspect to unlock his or her phone.

There are over 134 million fingerprint records between Homeland Security and Department of Defense databases. While these records are primarily used for verification, after they are collected, they could easily trigger a fingerprint reader.

There is a real risk that as more and more prints are put in databases that fingerprints may be leaked, much like credit card information, passwords, and social security numbers.

Smartphone fingerprint scanners are not nearly as secure as we believe. There are researchers who have created “master fingerprints” capable of fooling sensors.

Findings from studies at New York University and Michigan State University call the viability of fingerprint security into question. According to James Titcomb of The Telegraph, “The researchers were able to create a set of master prints that could fool a scanner up to 65 percent of the time.”

Full human fingerprints are very difficult to fake, but finger scanners on phones only read partial fingerprints. When setting up fingerprint security on a smartphone, the phone usually records eight to ten images of a finger to make matching easier. Because a single finger swipe only has to match one of the many stored images to unlock the phone, all phones are vulnerable to false matches.

Dr. Nasir Memon reports findings that indicate that, “…if you could somehow create a magic glove with a MasterPrint on each finger, you could get into 40 to 50 percent of iPhones within the five tries allowed before the phone demands the numeric password, known as a personal identification number.”

Stephanie Schuckers, a professor at Clarkson University and director of the Center for Identification Technology Research, said:

To really know what the impact would be on a cellphone, you’d have to try it on the cellphone.” She pointed out that cellphone manufacturers and other entities that use fingerprint security are looking into anti-spoofing techniques to detect the presence of a real finger versus the false fingertips that can be artificially produced.

Still, the team’s fundamental finding that partial fingerprints are vulnerable to spoofing is significant.

“What’s concerning here is that you could find a random phone, and your barrier to attack is pretty low,” said Dr. Chris Boehnen, manager of the federal government’s Odin program, which studies how to defeat biometric security attacks as part of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

Another way to decrease risk, according to Dr. Boehnen, is to add a larger fingerprint sensor. The good news is that some of the most recent biometric security options less susceptible to hacking. Consumers can also simply turn off fingerprint authentication when using their more sensitive phone apps, like mobile payments.



As we endeavor to improve security for our digital devices, we are finding ways that seem foolproof but are far from it. Fingerprint tech seems like a great option, but it is risky.

The great thing is that we have a choice. When you purchase your next smartphone, go with the security option that you feel is most secure – and then keep track of your phone.

© Does the Fingerprint Scanner on Your Phone Really Keep It Secure? – Industrial Shredders | Hom


Smart Guns Take A Giant Step Forward.


The development of ‘smart’ guns has been flopping around for more than twenty years, largely because the gun industry regards the technology, with good reason, as something that might be imposed on them by the government, and if you think that any industry looks favorably at government regulation, spend some time around Wall Street and you’ll quickly discover that when it comes to government, the business community just wants to be left alone.  The gun industry faces a double whammy in this regard, because not only does the government regulate what kinds of products it can make and sell, it also regulates the behavior of gun consumers, because it sets the criteria for who can and cannot legally buy and own guns.

smart             But the long-time opposition to ‘smart’ technologies by gun makers and their supporters also reflects a more subtle but nevertheless powerful factor at work, namely, the perception created by the ‘smart gun’ community that guns are inherently a risk. Forgetting for a moment that numerous credible studies indicate that all categories of gun injury go up in households with access to guns, the gun industry has tried, with some success, to promote the idea that whatever small risk might be incurred by keeping a gun in the home, this is more than counterbalanced by the ‘fact’ that guns make us safe.  Actually, they don’t. But why quibble over facts when emotions can carry the argument any day, right?

Last year, a former NYPD officer turned State Senator and now Borough President of Brooklyn, Eric Adams, announced a ‘smart gun’ competition with a prize of one million dollars going to the team which submitted the best proposal; the entrants being connected to a college-level engineering program located in New York. Yesterday the five finalists presented their concepts to a press conference at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, and the group from NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering walked off with the prize.

In the interests of full disclosure, as they say, Mike the Gun Guy was a member of the panel that chose the recipient student team which received the award. But it was a tough choice because all the submissions were serious, contained multiple technologies, and most of all indicated a great deal of thought and hard work. The fact that four teams did not win doesn’t mean that any of the student engineers will necessarily abandon the quest. In fact, there is no reason why the group from NYU wouldn’t profit from ideas generated by research conducted by other teams.

The truth is that making a ‘smart’ gun doesn’t mean that someone has to make a new gun. Most current handgun designs are modular, consisting of a frame, a slide, a barrel, a trigger and hammer assembly – stick the parts together like a jigsaw puzzle and, as my Uncle Ben (who was a gun maker) used to say, det’s it. If you want to add some smart technology, figure out whether you need an RFID chip or a print-reader or whatever will be used to authenticate the user and stick the components into the gun.

The real trick is not developing the technology itself, but making sure it really works. But here is where the student developers have a real advantage, because remember they are training to become engineers. And no matter what kind of engineering these students want to pursue, if it doesn’t work they might as well go back to school and learn something else. So becoming an engineer means not only designing a product, but also designing a valid test methodology which will move your idea from R&D to something sitting on a retailer’s shelf.

What safe gun development has lacked first and foremost is an industry standard which will define a safe gun and a test protocol that will validate that standard as a workable idea. The million-dollar award announced by Eric Adams is a major step in meeting those requirements which means that, yes Virginia, safe guns will appear.

Want To Come Up With The Dough To Make A ‘Smart’ Gun? Here’s A Plan.


With all due respect to Glock, we think of guns as an American phenomenon, from the origins of the first gun factory at Springfield Armory in 1777, up to now when Americans own more than one-third of all the small arms existing in the world today. If guns aren’t the best example of American ‘exceptionalism’ outside of Coka-Cola, I don’t know what is.

confiscated             But every once in a while someone somewhere else comes up with a really good idea about what to do with guns, and in this case the idea came out of Sweden last year.  The outfit who came up with this innovation is a relief and support organization called IM Swedish Development Partner, which is tied to a Swiss-based NGO called Humanium, which is connected to a United Nations sustainable development program which does relief and development work throughout the globe.  I know it’s a mouthful, but if you want to see what this project’s all about, just click here or continue reading below.

Basically what the program does is go out and collect illegal guns., then melt them down and use the metal for various mechanical and fabricating work in underserved communities; in other words, it’s basically a salvage operation, but in this case the metal which is being salvaged represents illegally-used guns.  So they aren’t promoting gun control as a response to gun violence, they are promoting recycling of products whose prior use has resulted in those particular products not being used for the same purpose again.

The outfit which announced this project, IM Swedish Development Partner, took their advertising video to Cannes last year and won the Grand Prize at the 2016 Innovation Grand Prix.  And don’t think they were competing against a bunch of slouches, because the runner-up was Google’s Tilt Brush, and prizes also went to agencies representing Apple and the iT Bra which can detect cancer simply by being worn.

Know how many illegal guns have been confiscated in New York City alone since 2013?  Try 15,000 bangers, okay?  Know how many guns the Chicago cops picked up last year? They took 8,300 guns off the street in 2016 and about 8,000 the previous year.  In Baltimore, the total haul last year was around 2,000 guns.

So the bottom line is that every year in the United States, the cops probably recover   at least 100,000 guns.  And how many of these guns get returned to their ‘rightful’ owners?  That’s a pretty easy number to figure out.  Like none. Get it? None.

I suspect that a majority of the seized guns are handguns and let’s assume that the average handgun weighs about 2.5 pounds. Now let’s add another half-pound to that number because many of the confiscated guns are long guns which obviously weigh a good deal more. In other words, every year we probably end up with somewhere around what would be 300,000 pounds of metal if these guns were all melted down.  How much is all that metal worth? Probably between $2 and $3 a pound, let’s say $2.50 to be safe.

What if we take $600,000 – $700,000 a year and give it away to some small, struggling entrepreneurs who are trying to get to market with a new product, in particular a product that might save some lives?  I think that what we could do with that steel is give it to the folks who want to manufacture ‘safe’ guns, you know, the guns which only shoot when the rightful owner puts it in his or her own hands.

I keep hearing that safe guns can’t get to market because nobody wants to put up the cash to move this kind of product out the factory door. But covering the raw material costs might be a good way to start.  And the fact that a safe gun might represent a recycled unsafe gun is certainly an added plus, don’t you agree?

Will ‘Smart’ Guns Ever Be Sold? I’m Not Sure.


Ever since the Clinton Administration ponied up some R&D money, the idea of creating a smart’ gun, or what is also called a ‘personalized’ gun has been flopping around the edges of the gun-control debate without much to show for it except a couple of government reports, an overpriced 22-caliber pistol that may or may not work very well and an occasional news story which just takes us back to Square One.

safegun             And Square One in the discussion about ‘smart’ guns is whether the average gun owner would be interested in owning a smart gun at all.  Because no matter how you slice it or dice it, putting an electronic gatekeeping device on a gun just isn’t as simple, easy or cheap as putting a fingerprint reader on a droid. The whole point of droid electronics is that everything that makes the device work is wired through a screen. But guns don’t have screens; they have metals and hard plastics and movable parts. Believe me, if someone could have come up with a droid-like fingerprint scanner that worked on a gun the way it works on a phone, it would have already been done.

Back in 2015 our friends at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School conducted a survey which found that 60% of respondents said they would consider buying a ‘smart’ gun, but a major gap in this survey was that the people who answered weren’t asked how much they would be willing to spend beyond the cost of the gun to personalize the weapon with an electronic device. And a comment by a member of the Hopkins research group that such a gun could use technology that ‘already exists’ simply isn’t true.

Sooner or later, someone has to explain how electronic devices that would be used to create a ‘safe’ gun actually work. Because if you read descriptions of smart-gun technologies, they will tell you how the gizmo works that identifies someone who has been programmed to use a particular gun, but what they don’t tell you is what has to happen inside the gun after the scanner reads the database and finds a print which is a match. And what most of the descriptions tell you is that once a match is made, then the gizmo ‘unlocks’ the trigger and away we go.

But unlocking the trigger of a gun isn’t the same thing as just taking a key and unlocking the front door.  In order to ‘unlock’ a trigger so that it can be pulled to fire a gun, at least three separate parts in the gun have to change their positions, these parts connecting the trigger to the hammer to the firing pin or striker, or otherwise the gun doesn’t work. And if one of these parts doesn’t shift its position with enough force, energy or pressure, when you pull the trigger all you will hear is a – click!  This is the reason you can’t just attach a fingerprint scanner to a gun without entirely redesigning the inner workings of the gun. So to make a ‘smart’ gun you are basically designing and manufacturing a new gun, which means you’re not just adding a new part to the gun the way you might change the grips.

The smart gun folks could get around the cost problem if the government would mandate ownership of smart guns. But the odds of that happening are about the same as the odds that Donald Trump would actually say something that’s true. The only smart gun that has ever hit the market (for a day) was the 22-caliber Armatix pistol which had a retail price of over $1,700 bucks, and even though the company has announced a 9mm prototype, I don’t notice that they have announced a price. And the idea that in low-bid America the cops would ever carry a pricey gun of any kind is like Humphrey Bogart’s final words at the end of Maltese Falcon: This is what dreams are made of.”

Are Safe Guns Finally Here? The President Just Gave Them A Big Push.


The man who still lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has just unveiled his plan to move forward with ‘smart gun’ technology, and while the Devil is always in the details and I’m not sure that all the details have been worked out, some of the hurdles that previously stymied the development of smart guns seem to have been anticipated and overcome.

bomberThe idea of electronically preventing someone other than the qualified owner from using a gun has been floating around for more than twenty years, but a combination of gun industry resistance, the usual bureaucratic inertia and consumer disinterest has kept this stuff on the back shelf. The biggest issue is not whether the technology works per se, but whether a workable ‘smart’ technology can be added to a gun without seriously impacting the retail price. I have heard different numbers from various ‘smart gun’ inventors and entrepreneurs, but all I know is that the one market-ready gun, the Armatix iP1, has a retail tag in excess of $1,600; in other words, fuggedaboutit.

The Obama plan surmounts this problem somewhat by approaching the entire issue from the perspective of developing a new law-enforcement technology and using federal funds both to help develop the product as well as to subsidize police agencies that might then adopt the gun.  The good news is that the civilian gun market is very much influenced by what the cops carry and buy, the bad news is that a subsidized police price doesn’t necessarily translate into an over-the-counter deal that will being gunnies into to my shop.

Leaving that issue aside for the moment, what impresses me most of all about this plan is the decision to create a bone-fide procurement process that reminds me of when the Army junked the Colt 1911 pistol back in the mid-70’s and went to the Beretta M9. First they figured out what they wanted, then they issued an RFP, then they ran a proof test to make sure that submitted guns actually met the design requirements and worked, then they got serious and did the requisite torture tests at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds to validate that the gun wouldn’t fall apart after it was shot thousands of times, dropped into water and sand, in other words replicating what happens to any military weapon that is carried in the field.

From what I can see in the White House report, a similar plan has been developed for smart guns, which will have to get through two test phases before the technology is considered to work. Entry requirements for the competition, however, do not specify what type of gun is permitted, nor the caliber of ammunition. Nor has the NIJ published the pass-fail criteria for the second and much more rigorous test phase.  So this initiative is still focused on testing the technology rather than testing a specific gun that might be adopted by law enforcement agencies. The “baseline requirements” for such a weapon (or weapons) will be determined following the Phase 2 test results.

If a technology exists that will meet the rigorous performance criteria that will no doubt be adopted, I am sure that we will see some product being carried by a few cops on a provisional basis by the end of the year.  But if the purpose of smart guns is to diminish gun accidents caused by an unqualified individual grabbing a gun, the number of such shootings involving law enforcement personnel is a tiny fraction of the accidental civilian shootings that take place every year. Which means that the issue of commercial market penetration must still be addressed.

On the other hand, it was nice to see the NRA’s positive response to this report which I quote: “At a time when we are actively fighting terrorists at home and abroad, this administration would rather focus the military’s efforts on the president’s gun control agenda.”  Now when do you think the NRA wrote that one?

What The Gun Violence Numbers Tell Us And What They Don’t Tell Us.

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This is the first time in my lifetime (and I was born during World War II), that a President has used the bully pulpit to focus on the issue of gun violence.  He’s issued executive orders, he’s held a Town Hall meeting, written an op-ed for The New York Times, and for sure will have plenty more to say when Congress and the American people gather to hear his State of the Union speech.  So in preparation for that event, as well as in response to the veritable torrent of media content that has been flying around the last week, I thought I would publish the data on gun violence that should be used to evaluate what Obama and others are saying about the issue itself.


               Here are the yearly numbers on gun mortality from the CDC.  Note that gun suicides dropped between 1993 and 2000, then were fairly level until 2008, and then have moved upwards again at a fairly rapid rate.  Gun homicides also declined substantially between 1993 and 2000, and have remained somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 over the last thirteen years.

There’s only one little problem with these numbers – they hide as much as they show.  In fact, notwithstanding the increase since 2008, gun suicides as a percentage of all suicides have declined to slightly less than 50%, the lowest percentage since these numbers were first tracked by the CDC.  As for gun homicides, while there was a significant decline until 2000, the number has stayed stubbornly at that level ever since, with minimal variations between this year and that.

On the other hand, the homicide number is a total of both intentional and unintentional gun deaths, and if we break out the latter, we find a remarkable trend over the last 20+ years, namely, that unintentional gun deaths have dropped from 1,521 in 1993 to 586 in 2014, a decline of nearly two-thirds.  Or to look at it another way, when intentional gun deaths dropped by 36% between 1993 and 2000, accidental gun deaths declined by more than 50% during the same period.

The decline in intentional gun homicides after the mid-90s paralleled an overall decline in violent crime and is presumed to be a factor of that latter trend. But while theories abound as to why violence in general and gun violence in particular decreased so dramatically until the early 2000s, I don’t notice anyone talking about the even greater drop in unintentional gun deaths over those years.  And while the intentional death toll from guns has of late levelled off, unintentional gun deaths continue to decline, from 802 in 2001 to 586 last year.

In a New York Times op-ed debate about gun safety, Steve Teret pulls out a 2003 study conducted by some of his Johns Hopkins colleagues which indicates that smart gun technology, if available on all currently-owned firearms, might save upwards of 37% of the people who are killed by accidental shootings each year. That’s an impressive number, and even if it’s slightly overblown (because God knows how long it would take before smart guns are actually purchased by consumers), there’s no question that keeping guns away from kids and other unqualified folks would cut the accidental death toll to some extent.

But rather than trying to come up with a vague number that might or might not represent the saving in human lives from smart-gun technologies, why don’t public health researchers try to figure out the reasons for a two-thirds decline in accidental gun deaths over the last two decades?  One answer I won’t accept is that the decline in gun accidents is due to the NRA or NSSF safety campaigns, for the simple reason that neither has ever been evaluated in honest, no-nonsense terms.  But until a GVP-minded researcher tries to figure out why accidental gun mortality keeps going down, we are forced to sit back and wait for smart guns to hit the shelves.  And wait.


Lesley Stahl Might Re-think What She Knows About Smart Guns.

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With all due respect to Lesley Stahl and the staff that produced the 60 Minutes segment on smart guns, the show basically mangled the history of smart gun technology beyond repair.  And what I am referring to is her discussion about the NRA boycott of Smith & Wesson back in 1999 which brought smart-gun innovation efforts to a grinding halt. According to Stahl, the government made a deal with S&W that would have required the company to invest profits from the sale of regular guns into the development of smart guns, leading to a boycott of the gun maker which then meant that “no big U.S. gun maker ever went near a smart gun.”

Stahl’s storyline is not only important for understanding why smart-gun technologies never got off the ground, but also for explaining why the NRA and other gun organizations view smart guns as just another arrow in the gun-grabber’s quiver that is always aimed at the legal ownership of guns.  Stahl herself posted a headline on the show from the NRA-ILA website which says, “smart guns could open the door to a ban on all other guns.”  And when you stop and think about it, the ‘slippery-slope’ mantra of how any gun regulation will eventually lead to confiscation is what the gun violence argument is really all about.

armatix                There’s only one little problem.  If you want to use the Smith & Wesson boycott to explain the origins of the gun lobby’s mistrust of smart guns, you’d better get your facts straight.  Because to begin with, the boycott wasn’t led by the NRA at all, and the reasons for the boycott had nothing to do with the part of the Clinton – S&W agreement that would have mandated investment in smart guns. Here’s what really happened.

During the Clinton Administration, the gun industry faced a series of torts brought by city governments and the NAACP who claimed that the industry was not effectively policing the sale of its products, hence there were too many deaths and injuries from guns.  In the midst of the legal battle, Clinton offered the gun makers relief by asking them to agree to new sales and distribution practices in return for which the government would immunize them against tort suits.  A committee representing the gun industry began negotiating with the Clinton bunch, then S&W jumped ship, walked away from the negotiations and announced they were ready to cut their own deal.  The boycott was initiated by S&W’s largest distributor, a company called RSR, and while the NRA came around and supported the boycott, they never really led the fight.

I not only recall the boycott, but I also have taken the trouble to read the agreement which S&W actually signed.  What’s interesting about the agreement is that some of its provisions (gun locks, loaded chamber indicators) were adopted by the gun industry without real pushback of any kind.  But the heart of the agreement was the requirement that gun makers would also be responsible for the behavior of all dealers selling their guns.  And let’s understand that being a gun dealer for Smith & Wesson isn’t like being a car dealer for General Motors or Ford.  Want to be a Smith & Wesson dealer?  Buy a dealer’s license from the ATF and get some wholesaler to ship you a Smith & Wesson gun.  Back in the early 90s, S&W conducted a survey of who was selling their products, and they found that 90% of their dealers transferred less than 50 every year.  The reason that one of the company’s distributors led the boycott was because this wholesaler knew that the terms of this agreement – at the point of sale – could never be met.

I’m not so sure that the gun industry was wrong in viewing this agreement as a back-door effort to get rid of guns. Which means that the slippery-slope argument against gun control may contain a grain of truth.  And remember, we’re dealing with an industry in which a little bit of truth goes a long, long way.

Can Technology And Entrepreneurship Solve Gun Violence? Worth A Try

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This week more than 1,000 people have gathered in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco for the annual TedMed conference, which is one of those fast-paced, international meetings bringing together people who want to come together to make deals, make connections, make friendships, make whatever people like to make who get together and then be able to tell everyone who wasn’t there how much they missed by not being there.  Think the Aspen Institute conference, think Davos, think TedMed, get it?

TedMed claims that its meetings explore “the technology, creativity and innovation that contributes to a healthier future,” which is an understated way of saying that if you have a new idea that will make a gezillion dollars in today’s health technology market, you’ll meet plenty of deep pockets belonging to people who want to help you get it out there as long as most of the profits end up belonging to them.  But that’s the way entrepreneurship works and that’s the reason why the TedMed meeting was video-streamed to more than 140 countries worldwide.

tedmed               I normally avoid having anything to do with such meetings because I know that the real action takes place not on the speaker’s platform, but in the hallways and the lounges where the conference delegates meet and greet.  But I had to watch today’s session because one of the main speakers was Daniel Webster, who runs the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.  And if readers of my column find that this name strikes a familiar chord it should, since the School in which the Center is located is endowed by the NRA’s chief antagonist, the former Mayor of New York.

If you’ve read the Center’s publications, you won’t find anything in Webster’s remarks at TedMed that would surprise.  And the prescription for reducing gun violence, which he described artfully and fully to the TedMed audience, can be found in the many published articles of the Center and are summarized in the book, Reducing Gun Violence in America, which the Center released following  the massacre at Sandy Hook.  In sum, Webster and his colleagues believe that gun homicides can be reduced by roughly half of the 11,000 that occur each year, a goal which could be met if gun ownership standards were more higher and more consistent, gun dealers were better regulated, private gun transfers came under NICS, and safe-gun technologies, particularly ballistic prints of ammunition, were implemented by manufacturers prior to retail sales.

As I was listening to Dan Webster’s remarks, however, it occurred to me that perhaps something needed to be considered beyond the strategy for change that he outlined in cogent and hopeful tones.  Because while there’s no question that a majority of Americans, even a majority of gun-owning Americans, support (at least in theory) sensible measures to reduce the carnage from guns, perhaps the audience at the TedMed conference included entrepreneurs and investors who view this issue, like they view all such issues, as a question of market, products, profit and loss.  So why not enlist them in figuring out how to translate some of these policy ideas into profitable ventures – the real American approach to solving problems – which will create financial incentives to help reduce harm from guns?

The smart-gun technology stuff has been kicking around for years, but the Number 1 reason why guns go off when they shouldn’t is because the owner forgot to unload it before he put it away.  We have sensors that tell us if we forget to turn off the lights on our cars.  Would anyone believe that their 2nd Amendment rights were under attack because they were reminded electronically to unload their guns?  Don’t get me wrong – the Hopkins gun violence research team understands the policy imperatives that would bring gun violence way down.  But asking entrepreneurs to advance the goals of those policies through market-based ideas and products certainly wouldn’t be wrong.

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