In California we have a new Senate Bill numbered 678 (click here to fight). This bill is trying to introduce an exploratory committee to look into smart guns, or firearms that can only be fired by the authorized user. In essence, this bill would lay the ground work for a smart gun law inside of California. On paper this sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want a gun that only allows the right person, or the authorized person to shoot it? I certainly would love to see a world where bad guys couldn’t operate firearms. Unfortunately this is a dumb idea, and downright scary.
I have years of experience in the I.T. field, which is actually my primary field. Couple this with firearms, and I think I’m fairly qualified to speak on this subject. Any technology we invent, can be disrupted. This can happen in several ways, but without even talking about hacking, we should simply look at what the FCC says about consumer devices.
“This device complies with Part 15 of the FCC rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) this device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.”
Looking at what we’re accepting by using consumer level devices, this is quite disturbing when you think of a life saving device, such as a handgun. Modern handguns are very safe when used properly. Just like any device or machine invented in the past 100 years or so, things have become safer. Of course handguns have been around much longer than 100 years, but they’ve really evolved in the past 100 years. Today’s handguns have numerous safeties, either active or passive, and go through rigorous testing by not only gun manufacturers, but also by some states before they’re allowed to be sold to the public.
Introducing a new element into a handgun, which will dictate when it can and cannot be fired, is frightening. Given what we read about Part 15 of the FCC rules, this means that all smart guns will be susceptible to outside interference, perhaps from a hacker’s signal. Or, someone could invent a jamming device that could make any firearms not operated by the police not functioning within xx feet of the officer or their vehicle. Certainly this would cut down on police shootings, right? Perhaps… But when only a handful of officers are actually killed by firearms, I don’t think there is a huge benefit here. Especially when you consider the risks. If a police department could possess the technology to shutdown smart guns, why couldn’t a criminal? Or a government? Suddenly the right to keep and bear arms becomes a moot point.
With the dystopian future out of the way, lets talk about more practical hacking of these devices. In the IT world, if you have physical access to a system, you can compromise it. All of the firewalls, inspections, and detectors in the world won’t stop someone who has physical access to a device. So what about a smart gun? Well, depending on the tech, this can go multiple ways. First, if the gun works on a smart ring or bracelet, we would assume the gun owner would stop the ring or bracelet with the gun. Why would you not? After all, they’re a pair, a system. When someone breaks into your home, and they steal your smart gun, they also steal your bracelet or ring. Where’s the upside here?
Ok, so what about finger print readers? This seems like a more secure method over the bracelets and rings. People can’t steal your fingerprint, right? Well, actually they can. But lets pretend they can’t. So, they steal the gun, but it won’t work because it’s not programmed for their fingerprint. Well, lets just erase the system and start with a new user. And if that’s not an option, maybe they can swap the ROM to one that already has their print on it. Or, they can bypass the whole print system entirely and just make the gun dumb by installing a jumper between two wires. Remember, once they have physical access to the gun, it doesn’t matter. If the factory which made the firearm can reset the gun, so can anyone else. Cell phones are a good example of the level of hacking people do to their devices. People root and install custom ROM images all the time on their cell phones, some of which are under contract, under warranty, and protected.
There may be a real benefit to a smart gun. There is a small chance that some people could very well benefit from this system. This would be the people who have their guns taken away and used on themselves. A lot of people are thinking cops, right? Actually that doesn’t happen as often as you think. If this system was implemented on a large scale, say across all 1,000,000 sworn federal and state law enforcement officers, you would see many more cops die. Why? Because no system is perfect. Finger print readers won’t work when it’s raining. Don’t believe me? Try to use your iPhone with a wet finger. What about mud, blood, oil, or anything else a cop might run into working a cold night. All of these can make a finger print reader not work. And if we’re back to rings and bracelets, what’s to stop an officers ring or bracelet from being dislodged or removed during a scuffle? Not to mention that wearing any jewelery, like a ring or otherwise, can be a hazard when dealing with extreme situations. An officer could get into a scuffle and fall on his smart gun, rendering the electronics inside useless from the shock. There are many scenarios where a gun with fragile electronics inside is a very bad idea.
Children getting their hands on their parents or other adult’s guns seems to be an issue too. Adults will hide the gun assuming this is adequate enough. Children are smart, and inquisitive. If a child can learn to operate a computer on their own only by watching an adult use it for a few minutes, what about a smart gun? This is something akin to people who buy guns because they have an external safety. It makes them feel good, because they put faith into the safety device to keep the gun safe. The same people who do this, will be the parents who leave the firearm out. After all, it’s same, right? It’s a smart gun, and a child surely could never figure out how to bypass the system to make it fire. Or could they?
Now, what if we reverse the dystopian picture I gave you earlier and give criminals gun jamming devices that work on cop’s guns? Not a pretty picture, right? They could walk into any bank and rob it with impunity. Walk into any school and shoot until they ran out of ammo. Or walk into a police station and claim a new ISIS headquarters without much resistance. Ok, enough you say. Cops shouldn’t have smart guns. Ok, so who then? Should we enforce the smart guns on the people who don’t need them? Should we raise the cost of firearms, a natural right, an enumerated civil right, even higher than they are today? Lets say yes. We’ll pretend that there is a huge public benefit to this new smart gun, and we’ll legislate that all new guns must be smart guns. Then what?
I have one firearm in my possession that is just shy of 100 years old. It holds 8 rounds, or 10 if I run a larger magazine, and can shoot with extreme accuracy. This firearm is also small enough to conceal and light enough to carry daily. You guessed it, it’s a model 1911 made in 1917. Guns sold all the way up until the smart gun could be released will be in circulation for hundreds of years. Having open borders with neighboring states, and having an unsecured border with Mexico would guarantee that non smart guns would continue to enter California illegally. 3D printer technology is also another concern in this area. With people being able to produce firearms more easily than before at home, there really is little point in requiring a smart gun, especially when a 13 year old with a printer and internet access can print a gun. Do you see where I’m going with this?
As much as I love technology, I do not think this is a good application of it’s use. Creating a smart gun is fine. Give people the option to own the gun if they so choose. After all, we’re a nation built upon freedoms. Choice is what America is about. However, do not require people to own such devices which are prone to outside manipulation. This will only end in tragedy that was surely unforeseen by the legislature, like so many other ideas they’ve pushed into law. California is where this fight starts, but don’t think it ends here. This, like all gun laws, have a broad sweeping impact. It’s important that we all see this for what it is, and say no.
Looking at the picture for this article, he too had a smart gun that only he could fire. Remember how that worked out for him?