Ernst Mauch, the man behind the Armatix iP1 so-called smart gun (really a gun with an onboard authentication system), recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post where he states that smart guns are safer than regular guns:
Respect for this freedom to protect your family as you see fit is a major reason I believe that gun owners in the United States should have the right to purchase personalized firearms using high-tech safety features. The reality is that firearm safety has not meaningfully advanced in the past century. Nearly every other industry has transformed its safety features — often multiple times — in that same period. Given how tragic the misuse of firearms can be, guns should be no different.
While firearm safety hasn’t meaningfully advanced in the past century it still doesn’t hold the record. Sword, for example, haven’t meaningfully advanced in regards to safety in over a millennium. Clubs also haven’t advanced in regards to safety for even longer. Why is this? Most likely because firearms, swords, and clubs are weapons and weapons are meant to cause damage. Ernst’s claim that nearly every other industry has advanced its safety features ignores most industries involving weapons.
Armatix offers market-based solutions for improving gun safety. We understand that any time a major new technology enters the market, some people will be skeptical, and that is why it is important to clarify exactly what the Armatix pistol is.
As far as I know Armatix hasn’t been lobbying in the United States for mandating that all firearms include built-in authentication systems. That being the case I have no issue with Armatix introducing its iP1. Let the market decide whether or not gun owners want such technology. So long as Ernst and Armatix rely on the market to decide whether or not people should buy their firearms I have nothing against them.
The firearm also detects the proximity of the watch, meaning that even if the gun is stolen after the code has been keyed in, it cannot be fired. If the gun and the watch are both stolen, the thief might as well throw them out because the gun won’t fire without the correct five-digit code.
This is something I didn’t know about the iP1. In addition to having the watch you also have to know a five digit code. That further complicates things will offering relatively little additional security. Five digit codes can be brute forced pretty quickly. Even if the watch itself implements mechanism to slow down a brute force attack that means little if the thief is in physical possession of the watch. Downloading a copy of the watch’s firmware will allow an attacker to bypass any watch implemented slowdown mechanisms, which will likely render the five digit code irrelevant.
The thing to take away from this article is that the author isn’t unbiased. He designed the authentication system and is therefore invested in making it sound good. On the other hand he doesn’t indicate that he wants to lobby for mandating his design be including in all handguns, which is a good. I have no objections to the technology itself although I don’t have any interest in it since its reliability hasn’t been proven. But I also cannot accept his claim that firearms like the iP1 are inherently safer since he has a direct business interest in saying so and there are a lot of scenarios where the technology could cost you your life (for example, if your arm with the watch is injured you could be unable to fire the gun with your functional hand).