Adams' 'Sputnik' Moment on Gun Detection Looks More Like 'Flopnik'

AP Photo/William Mathis

In late March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Edward A. Caban announced a new effort to combat the carrying of concealed firearms in the city's "gun-free" subway system; a scanning system that would be able to identify anyone illegally carrying a gun in a station or subway car. 


Adams called the system “a Sputnik moment,” referring to the first launch of a satellite and the space race that followed. But according to a new report from Wired, that system may be more of a "Flopnik"; the description used by some press outlets when the U.S. government's first attempt to launch a satellite into space ended up crashing and burning after getting about four feet off the ground. 

Wired reports that the system Adams has touted, called Evolv, is hardly the magic solution the mayor's claimed it to be. In fact, even the folks behind Evolv have admitted it's not designed to work in a subway environment. 

In February 2022, a meeting was set up between New York City mayor Eric Adams’ team and an artificial intelligence gun-detection company called Evolv. An email thread from Evolv representatives included an accompanying brochure, which listed opportunities to partner together: in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, NYC schools, hospitals, and gathering places such as Times Square. One area conspicuously missing from the list, though, was the subway.

After an in-person meeting a few days later, Evolv cofounder Anil Chitkara made another attempt to sell the company’s technology—through name-dropping.

“As I mentioned, Linda Reid, VP Security for Walt Disney World (Florida) has known us since 2014 and deployed many of our systems at the Parks and Disney Springs,” Chitkara wrote in a February 7 email to the Mayor’s Office, obtained by WIRED. “They’ve had success screening for weapons with Evolv Express … There may be some interesting parallels to how you are thinking about everyone’s role in security."

The comparison of safety in NYC to that in Disney World apparently helped to persuade the Adams team. A couple of weeks later, Evolv’s technology was used to screen visitors in a city-run Bronx hospital, where a man had been shot inside the emergency room in January 2022. This wasn’t very successful—the scanners produced false positives 85 percent of the time during the seven-month pilot.

If Evolv’s accuracy in a hospital was low, its accuracy in NYC subway stations may be worse. In an investor call on March 15, 2024, Peter George, the company’s CEO, admitted that the technology was not geared toward subway stations. “Subways, in particular, are not a place that we think is a good use case for us,” George said, due to the “interference with the railways.”


Yet just two weeks later Adams announced that Evolv's tech would be deployed in the subway system, at least on a trial basis. 

You should read the entire Wired article when you have a chance. It gets into some interesting ties between Evolv and the NYPD, but it also raises major questions about the efficacy of the scanning system. Besides the incredible 85% false positive rate in the NYC hospital, Evolv has also reportedly demonstrated some major issues with identifying firearms in schools; often confusing common items that might be found in backpacks with weapons. 

In mid-April, the school district’s chief operating officer announced at a conference panel with an Evolv executive in Las Vegas that they were “eliminating” metal three-ring binders.

“As we transition into the next school year, teachers will utilize other alternatives for classroom supplies,” Jessica Saunders, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spokesperson, tells WIRED in an email. She also says student laptops most often alert the weapons detection system.

Meanwhile, the company is currently being sued by a high school student in upstate New York who alleges that Evolv misrepresented its technology and is responsible for failing to detect the large knife that was used to stab him. 


Is NYC going to end up banning laptops and three-ring binders from the subway system too? 

There's a much simpler alternative here: recognize that the Second Amendment applies to New York City along with every other inch of the United States, and drop the prohibition on lawful carry on the city's transit system. The Big Apple didn't ban concealed carry on buses or trains until the Bruen decision was handed down, so it's hardly a "longstanding prohibition". The ban obliterates the right to carry for those New Yorkers who rely on public transportation to get around, and the city's efforts to spot any unlawfully carried guns is quickly becoming a joke. The impact on public safety is no laughing matter, however. It's time for the city to get serious and come to grips with the fact that residents and visitors are being unlawfully disarmed, the "sensitive" subways are hardly gun-free, and even when Big Brother is watching, he can't tell the difference between a Beretta and a binder. 

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