Smart Gun Technology -- a Dumb Idea

There has been evil in the world ever since Cain slew Abel with a rock and technology will not get rid of it. Despite accumulating evidence that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, the Obama administration continues to blame guns, retaining a fear of inanimate objects that one would have hoped we left behind in the Middle Ages.

Case in point is President Obama’s announcement that through executive order he will speed the development of so-called smart gun technology. As the New York Times reported:

President Obama will use the power of his office to try to jump-start long-stalled “smart-gun” technology that could eventually allow only the owner of a firearm to use it, the White House announced Friday.

Over the opposition of gun rights groups, he also vowed to push ahead with a new federal policy giving the F.B.I. access to more mental health records of some Social Security recipients to better flag people who might be banned from buying a gun….

In a post on his Facebook page, Mr. Obama wrote that “as long as we’ve got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun.”

In his Facebook post, President Obama forget to mention that a precipitous drop in federal gun prosecutions and the enforcement of existing laws by his administration has made it easier and more likely that the wrong people will pull the trigger on a gun. Or that the steady decrease in violent crime nationally comes in tandem in a striking increase in armed citizens. In an analysis published December 31, 2015 in the Washington Times it was noted:

The administration has overseen a striking drop in prosecutions of gun crimes, winning only about 6,000 convictions in 2015 -- down more than 15 percent from five years ago, and giving added weight to claims by gun rights groups that President Obama has failed to enforce the laws already on the books….

But the push comes as his lawyers at the Justice Department are winning fewer cases using the laws already passed to ban criminals from buying or owning firearms, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University….

Erich Pratt, a spokesman for Gun Owners of America, said the drop in convictions makes sense because there has been an overall drop in murders -- and he credited expanded gun rights for the good news.

“The fact is, armed citizens serve as a deterrent to crime,” he said. “The number of concealed-carry holders has tripled since the time Obama took office, even while the national murder rate has fallen 25 percent.”

Obama’s Chicago, where opposition to private gun ownership has been fierce amid record carnage, is a perfect example of the consequences of the federal failure to enforce existing laws and prosecute violators. In an April 2, 2013 editorial, Investor’s Business Daily noted:

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, the mother of murdered 15-year-old Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton, was one of 20 mothers who lost children to criminal violence who were at the White House last Thursday to hear President Obama speak once again on the need for gun control.

Obama met with her and some of the others in a small group before his formal remarks and told them “how serious this issue really is and something needs to be done about it,” she said. But President Obama did not tell this group that Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) shows that the Northern Illinois district ranked 90th out of 90 in prosecutions of federal weapons crimes per capita.

David Burnham, co-director of TRAC, states their analysis says that according to case-by-case U.S. Justice Department information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, there were 52 federal gun prosecutions in Illinois North (Chicago) in 2012, or 5.52 per million in population. By this measure, compared with the 90 federal judicial districts in the U.S., the prosecution rate in Chicago was the lowest in the country.

Considering that there were 522 people murdered in Chicago in 2012, one would think that the documented lack of enforcement of existing gun laws by a president seeking more of them would be a national scandal.

Smart-gun technology will not solve the problem of federal neglect or liberal hypocrisy. The problem is not that there are too many bad cases with “easy access” to guns but too few good guys with access to guns to protect themselves and their families.

As Joseph Steinberg, writing in Forbes, notes, there are dangers in smart gun technology, which uses computers to identify whether the person holding the gun is authorized to pull the trigger:

1. Electronic devices require a power source, and smart guns are no exception. Without electricity they cannot be fired. Someone intent on using a firearm for home defense could find herself in serious danger if she drew a weapon on an armed intruder only to find that its batteries are drained….

2. Computers malfunction, and authentication technology is not perfect. Lawfully armed citizens protecting themselves and/or their families could be killed if their weapons malfunction during a home invasion or attempted rape. While some have argued that conventional semi-automatic handguns also periodically jam, smartguns add a whole new dimension of failure possibilities….

3. At least one smartgun that has entered the marketplace requires the owner to wear a special watch; the gun will only fire if it is within a short distance of the watch. While such a scheme may afford some level of protection in certain scenarios, it might do little in others; the “watch approach” would seemingly not prevent a criminal from grabbing someone’s weapon and shooting him at point blank range (as long as the gun was always near the watch), or stop a crook from stealing both the watch and the gun….

4. Some upcoming smartgun models use biometrics to authenticate users, but biometrics take time to process and are often inaccurate – especially when a user is under duress – as is likely going to be the case in any situation in which he needs to brandish a gun. Furthermore, fingerprint readers and other forms of biometric analyzers are prone to error when people sweat profusely, shake, or are bloodied.

If a cop is shot and killed, can his or her partner pick it up and use it? Can a housewife use the gun of her slain husband and fire it at the intruder before she is raped and murdered? These and other issues remain unaddressed as is the issue of computer hacking -- by criminals or even government.

Viruses and hackers can play havoc with smart guns as can other electronic interference. There is even the issue of a government agency shutting down smart guns remotely. This may seem a tad paranoid but there are those who trust Smith and Wesson more than they do the Department of Justice.

The best defense against bad guys with guns remains good guys with guns and a government willing to enforce existing laws.

Daniel John Sobieski is a free lance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.               

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