Anti-gunners having second thoughts on "smart guns"?

Gun control groups have been demanding “smart guns” for decades, touting the unproven technology as a game-changer when it comes to violent crime and firearm-involved suicides. But now that a Colorado company is taking pre-orders for its $1600 pistol some anti-gun activists are starting to express reservations about the tech.


It’s not surprising to see many gun owners express their reservations or lack of interest about Biofire’s new offering, which the company says will ship starting later this year. But given the broad support and backing that gun control groups and anti-gun politicians have provided over the past 25 years or so, I’ll confess to being a little taken aback by the comments of one anti-gun activist who recently spoke to the Denver Post about the company’s product.

While the aim is to minimize deaths, adding more guns to the hundreds of millions already in circulation carries its own risk — especially if people who wouldn’t purchase a standard gun decide to buy a smart gun. The presence of a gun increases the risk of deaths by suicide and accidental shootings, said Adam Skaggs, vice president of Giffords Law Center, citing numerous research studies.
While the technology might keep that person’s child from shooting themselves, it wouldn’t stop the authorized user.
“It’s kind of a brave new world,” Skaggs said. “In theory, there will be benefits and, in theory, there will be risks by putting these guns on the market. It’s hard to say.”

Back when “smart guns” were only a theory, gun control activists were tripping over themselves to support the technology. New Jersey lawmakers even passed a law requiring gun stores to only sell “smart guns” once a product had come to market, though  the state legislature modified the law a few years ago to instead require gun stores to carry a smart gun once they become available, while still permitting the sale of “dumb guns”… at least for the time being.


As long as anti-gunners were convinced that “smart guns” would lead to fewer guns overall, it was an idea they were behind 100%. But as the Denver Post notes, now that they’re waking up to the possibility that “smart guns” could instead result in new gun owners joining the tens of millions of Americans already exercising their Second Amendment rights, the technology is a double-edged sword in their eyes.

The folks over at Open Source Defense have highlighted another reason that anti-gun groups may have gotten more than they bargained for with the development of “smart guns.” The technology used by Biofire could be a game-changer for firearms technology in ways that anti-gunners never considered.

In all the discussion of the details and implications (both technical and legal) of a biometric-locked gun, folks missed the tech development here that, if it’s pursued, is actually going to have the biggest impact on the future of guns. To make the authentication more robust to someone simply opening the gun up and removing a physical lock, Biofire implemented a fire-by-wire system. The gun has no mechanical link between the trigger and the sear. When you pull the trigger, three things happen:

  1. An onboard computer detects that the trigger has been pressed.
  2. The computer runs some code and decides what to do.
  3. The gun fires.

Pay attention to step 2. Guns just became software.

In this particular case, Biofire has built a piece of software whose job it is to fire a bullet if and only if an authorized user says to. Yeah, biometrics are controversial, etc etc. That’s beside the point. Remember the properties of software — it’s flexible. Once fire-by-wire works, sure you can use it to do biometric auth. But you don’t have to use it for that. Alternatively or additionally, you can use it to do, oh, anything you want.

That goes way beyond Biofire. You can imagine a bunch of gun companies making fire-by-wire systems, and then an entire ecosystem of fire control software (both open- and closed-source) on top of that. (Side note: the first prosecution for machine gun software is going to be an interesting test case, and in a facts-on-the-ground sense, widespread fire-by-wire will be the end of machine gun regulation. Get ready for a court case about whether possession of a machine gun download is a felony.)


It remains to be seen if there’s much of a market for “smart guns,” but I could see an open-source version getting some traction with more tech and tinkering-inclined gun owners, especially if the costs come down. That may be another reason why some gun control activists appear to be getting cold feet now that “smart guns” are getting closer to the marketplace. As long as they saw “smart guns” as a way to limit gun ownership, it was an invaluable invention that must be adopted. But if the technology leads to new gun owners or creates a mess with current gun laws, it might not be long before it’s the anti-gunners who are calling “smart guns” a dumb idea.

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