Over and over gun control advocates have tried to get “smart gun” technology mandated through congress and various state legislatures. But it’s not happening fast enough for them, so President Obama gave it a little push in January when he asked the DOJ to:
“[C]onduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms, and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns.
The departments shall, to the extent permitted by law, regularly (a) review the availability of the technology described in section 1, and (b) explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.
In connection with these efforts, the departments shall consult with other agencies that acquire firearms and take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.
The hope was that if the federal government, the country’s largest purchaser of firearms, could implement the technology, it would spur consumer adoption.
In his announcement, President Obama likened the utilization of smart gun technology to childproof caps on medicine bottles:
“In the greatest, most technologically advanced nation on Earth, we should be using all the tools we have to keep people safe. We make sure children can’t open a bottle of aspirin – why wouldn’t we make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun?”
Well, Mr. President, we actually don’t make sure children can’t open a bottle of aspirin. Regulations require “child resistant” packaging, and we’re pretty sure that doesn’t mean a child cannot open the bottle. But more importantly, knowing that the elderly and people with disabilities have difficulty with child resistant packaging, pharmacies can provide prescriptions in non-CR packaging in certain cases.
Similarly, critics of smart gun technology argue that, depending on the particular safety device, it’s either easily defeated or too difficult to get around in an emergency or in the event of a malfunction.
The Department of Justice’s findings were recently released and, not surprisingly, their concerns echo what smart gun skeptics have long maintained. The specifications are listed in bureaucratese, but essentially reject any kind of “personalization” that relies on grip recognition, fingerprinting, or code input.
The “Security device” section reads [emphasis added]:
4.18 Security device
4.18.1 Pistols shall have an integrated “lock-out” security device as a permanent part of the pistol that disables the firing mechanism except when in the control of
4.18.2 The security device shall be understood to include any externally worn items, such as rings, wristbands, or tokens that perform functions associated with the security device.
4.18.3 The security device shall include a programmable authorization system that can be set to allow one or more operators to fire the pistol.
4.18.4 The security device shall not inhibit the operator from firing in either hand, one-handed or two-handed, with and without gloves, in any orientation.
4.18.5 The security device shall not alter the normal operation of grasping and firing the pistol as a pistol of the same design that is not equipped with the security device.
4.18.6 The security device shall not increase the time required by the operator to grasp, draw from a holster, and fire the pistol as a pistol of the same design that is not equipped with the security device.
4.18.7 The security device shall not emit audible sounds or visible signals.
4.18.8 If the security device may be susceptible to electromagnetic interference, either intentional or unintentional, the device shall be equipped with countermeasure detection technology that permits the operator to fire the gun when an attempt to block the authorization process is detected.
4.18.9 The security device shall covertly indicate when the pistol is ready to fire.
4.18.10 If the security device uses batteries, the batteries can be rechargeble but shall be replaceable.
4.18.11 Low power to the security device shall be indicated covertly with sufficient time to safely take action.
4.18.12 If the security device malfunctions, it shall default to a state to allow the pistol to fire.
4.18.13 The security device should be easy for an operator to quickly reset or disengage if there is a malfunction.
President Obama announced the publication of the report as if it were some type of policy victory. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) jumped on the victory dance bandwagon as well, apparently not realizing that the specifications essentially rule out any “smart gun” on the market - including fingerprint technology.
“We are a country of innovators. In a world where thumbprints unlock smartphones, I refuse to believe that we can’t develop the technology to ensure guns can only be fired only by their owners.”
In addition to the security features, it’s interesting to note that the DOJ specifications require the guns to be semi-automatic, for the magazines to hold a minimum of 14 (Class I) or 16 (Class II) cartridges, no “manual external thumb, finger, or grip-actuated safety device,” and no magazine disconnect safety. According to some state governments and the gun control lobby, this means every single gun purchased by the federal government is “unsafe,” and contains features that “only belong on the battlefield.”
Of course, it’s perfectly logical that law enforcement officers would want guns that allow them to effectively protect themselves and others. If law enforcement finds available “smart gun” technology too risky, why would a civilian want to risk their life on it?