Making Firearms as Secure as Laptops

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    One of the technologies that telecommunications and IT can “give” to the rest of society is a big one: Its onboard laptop security technology can be a key element of smart gun technology.

    The idea is simple: The same basic technology that reads fingerprints or other biometrics can be used in firearms to prevent unauthorized people – children or thieves – from using them. Computerworld reports that the Obama Administration today released a report by the Defense, Homeland Security and Justice departments on the subject. The document is entitled “Report to the President Outlining a Strategy to Expedite Deployment of Gun Safety Technology.”

    The story says that smart gun technology uses radio frequency identification (RFID) or biometric ID systems to lock guns. It initially was developed for law enforcement and the military as a way to prevent the use of the firearm by the wrong person in a struggle. The story says that development has not gotten attention due to opposition by the gun industry, at least in part.

    An Associated Press story posted at the PBS NewsHour’s site offers a couple of examples of smart gun technology. One of these is from Armatix GmbH, a German company. The iP1 will only fire if it gets a signal from an accompanying watch, which must be within 10 inches of the weapon. The piece points out that such efforts are not new – indeed, Smith & Wesson introduced a similar feature for gun safety in the 1880s meant for protecting kids. The feature, which required a grip to be squeezed at the same time the trigger is pulled, was offered into the 1940s.

    The PBS story says that sophisticated gun safety features add a lot to cost. For instance, the iP1 costs $1,300. That doesn’t include the watch. The article also paints a somewhat more nuanced portrait of the opposition to smart guns than commonly is seen in the media. The National Rifle Association is not quoted. However, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation says that the organization is not necessarily against smart guns. The key concerns are that the features detract from weapon reliability and, once introduced, such laws are more likely to eventually become mandatory for all firearms.

    The technical objections to the approaches being researched now are outlined by Bob Owens at Bearing Arms. The piece suggests that there are significant flaws with each approach. For instance, a fingerprint system won’t work if the user is wearing gloves. The requirement of a control mechanism within 10 inches of the weapon will fail if the individual has to shoot with the other hand, which is a strong possibility if there is a struggle. However, if the distance is increased, the odds the other person won’t be able to shoot are reduced. 

    Owens makes what seems to a layman to be legitimate points about the shortcomings of the approaches available today. However, it also seems likely that some combination of technologies and techniques, along with further research, could alleviate many of these issues. They simply don’t seem insoluble. It also seems that relatively simple steps – such as the old Smith & Wesson approach – would cut down on the awful incidents of kids firing firearms.  

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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