Smart Guns and Fear Mongering

The topic of smart guns crops up periodically. Gun control advocates tend to believe smart guns are the magical technological solution to gun crime and gun rights advocates tend to believe smart guns are an infeasible idea that will never see widespread adoption. I think the concept of smart guns is interesting for different reasons than normally expressed. One of the science fiction series I really enjoy is The Lost Fleet. In it the marines have firearms that automatically cease firing when they are aimed at an individual that is identified as friendly and resume firing when that individual is no longer in the line of fire. This allows the marines to kick in the door and gun down enemy soldiers without worrying about friendly fire. It’s a great idea and one that will likely find its way into firearm technology some day. I look forward to seeing such technology some day.

But there is a lot of fear mongering over introducing electronic components into firearms. An example of such fear mongering can be found in this article:

But apart from reliability, which is by itself enough of an objection to ensure that most gun buyers will never go near a smart gun, there’s another objection that I’ve not yet seen raised to the smart gun. As a guy who knows a thing or two about technology, I’d like to raise the objection now: the smart gun and the second amendment, at least as many modern gun owners understand the latter, are fundamentally incompatible. Here’s why.

In September of last year, Apple introduced a technology that would let police remotely disable protesters iPhones. So if the police think that you might film them while they’re doing their thing, they could set up a “no pictures” zone by sending a wireless signal to disable the smart phone cameras in a certain vicinity.


Now, substitute “phone” in the above quote for “gun,” and you’ll see where I’m going with this.

Cops are going to love the idea that they can turn off suspects’ guns before doing a no-knock raid, but it’s hard to see gun owners getting fired up about it.

If you’re one of those folks who believe that the second amendment is the people’s last bulwark against tyranny, then you’re probably never going to buy a gun that the government magically render inoperable. To give the government the ability to remotely disable your weapon would turn the second amendment, at least in the “first the soap box, then the ballot box, then the ammo box” sense, into dead letter.

Firearms that can be remotely disabled is one potential feature that could be included in smart guns but is by no means a mandatory feature. The concept of smart guns isn’t incompatible with the Second Amendment. Some of the features may go against the generally accepted spirit of the Second Amendment but that doesn’t mean the technology isn’t compatible.

Firearms like those that appear in The Lost Fleet series are entirely compatible with the spirit of the Second Amendment. So are firearms that automatically adjust their point of aim for windage, distance, powder load, bullet weight, and other variables involved in aiming.

While I’m on the subject of smart guns I think it’s also worth addressing the reliability fears. The most common criticism of smart guns is that the introduction of additional features will decrease reliability. This is true, the more complex a device the less reliable it becomes. However acceptable reliability is still a subjective thing. Semi-automatic rifles are more failure prone than bolt-action rifles. Every major military and police force has chosen to take the increased failure rate of semi-automatic rifles because additional firepower they bring to the battlefield are immense. Electronic optics are another example of a devices that can introduce additional failure points in a firearm design that have become widely accepted.

My point is that the additional capabilities offered by more complex technologies tend to exceed the additional failure rates they introduce. Oftentimes these new technologies being life with a very high rate of failure and through refinement becomes extremely reliable. Additional technologies made possible by introducing more electronics into smart guns will follow this trend.

The idea behind smart guns isn’t inherently bad. There are even valid reasons to want a firearm that cannot be fired by anybody by yourself. Instead of fearing future firearm technology we should be embracing it. So long as the technology is voluntary there is no reason to oppose it or try to drum up unnecessary fear of the technology. Making arguments against laws that mandate any firearm technology is certainly appropriate but making arguments against the technology itself is, in my not so humble opinion, short sighted.