"Smart guns" can be tracked, remotely controlled and even hacked – and they could be in Police hands soon
Guns should probably just stay dumb for now
The intersection of gun rights and privacy standards is a strange place.
It’s a dimly lit legal junction, often only occupied by libertarians, conservatives, outlaw liberals, and anarchists; a dangerous crossroads protected by both the second and fourth amendments and defended fiercely by the NRA. Arguments surrounding gun-control often end up here, pushing the line one way or another, debating a person’s right to bear arms and their right to maintain privacy.
It’s a contentious battleground. And one that’s about to get even more controversial, as firearms get smarter.
Yes, smarter. Smarter like our cars (which can now be remotely operated), smarter like our TV’s (which listen in on our conversations), smarter like our phones (which track our every movement) and smarter like our GPS maps (which can now predict where we’ll be and when).
Weapons companies like Yardarm and Nerospec Tactical have been working to develop and promote the use of trackable, remote controlled, smart-guns. It’s technology that these companies hope police and military personnel will soon adapt, and eventually, which might someday be forced upon private gun owners as well.
Predictably, the idea has riled up a lot of gun-toting, freedom-loving, anti-surveillance, anti-government diehards. And for good reasons, too.
Let’s back up a second, though, and explain this technology first, before delving into the debate it’s caused. Because understanding what this new gun-tech does is key to understanding why it’s making so many people so very uneasy.
“Firearm Telematics” is the technical-term dubbed by Yardarm to describe this new technology. Essentially, the guns they manufacture include a micro-tracker GPS chip so the gun’s location will always be known. But that’s not all: this technology can also tell you when a gun was fired, how many rounds were fired from it, which direction they were fired in, and even shows when a gun was drawn from its holster.
Future developments could remotely enable or disable a firearm entirely.
Now, there are probably a fair few of you out there thinking, “That sounds like a great idea! Being able to track guns, who has them, which direction they were shot in and being able to turn them on or off remotely will save lives and help track down criminals!”
And sure, there are a lot of benefits for police using this technology. They’d be able to track their officers via their guns, see who discharged the firearm, when and they’d be able to determine why and if it was a reasonable use of force. Police would no longer have any problems seeking out stolen police firearms. They’d be able to tell who pulled the trigger first in a police-standoff and thereby determine if the officer was in the right or in the wrong. They’d be able to send in backup if they know a gun has been fired, and they would know where to send it to. Police would even be able to remotely disarm the gun if it ended up in the wrong hands.
That’s all good and well. But the more technical something is, the more prone to failure it is also. The most reliable devices are usually the simplest — combining guns with computers opens the door for all kinds of new tech issues. For instance, what if a gun is disarmed because of a technical problem when the police officer needs to draw it? Or, perhaps even more troubling, what if the computer chip inside of it has been hacked?
Even if the failure rate of this technology is 1 out of 1,000, there will undoubtedly be lives lost because of it. Police computers are one thing to have fail in the field. But police guns… those are a different story.
This smart-gun technology isn’t just raising questions for police officers, either. It’s also raising questions among private gun owners. Because, this could very easily be something that the government requires gun manufacturers to include in their guns in the future. Just like most makes and models of car are now require to be “connected cars” (which communicate wirelessly with each other and the road), gun laws might likewise require manufacturers to include this particular smart-tech in their guns.
That would be a big problem. Not just because it would allow the government to know exactly what kinds of guns an individual owns, how many and where they’re stored; and not even just because it would allow the government to disarm those guns at will. But if guns can be hacked, so can the system that tracks them. And that means that guns could be framed for certain crimes very easily. Just alter the data so it looks like the gun was fired at the time and scene of the crime, and you’ve created a prime suspect: the gun owner. Whether they were there or not, they’ve now become the accused.
The problem when it comes to smart-guns isn’t the good that they might do in the hands of our men and women in blue. The problem is in the many ways they can fail or be abused by both government and non-government entities.
Call me anti-progress, but guns should probably just stay dumb for now. Why fix something that isn't broken?