New Jersey on Monday became the first state to enact “smart gun” legislation that would eventually require new handguns to contain a mechanism that allows only their owners to fire them.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology is developing a smart gun prototype that would use sensors on the pistol grip to identify a user.
The owner would have his or her grip programmed at a gun shop or police range by practice-firing the weapon. A microchip in the weapon would remember the grip and determine in an instant whether the authorized user was holding the weapon. If not, the gun would not fire.
There are many problems with this. There are so many ways this could go wrong and prevent the gun from operating when it was needed.
What if the chip is fried somehow? Is it inconceivable that criminals could develop something that generated a small electromagnetic pulse (EMP) or other means of destroying the chip? What if you needed to fire the weapon with your “off” hand? Say your right hand had been injured and you couldn’t shoot with it. Your left hand will have an entirely different grip. Will the gun fire? What if you have arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, and sometimes can’t grip the gun as firmly as you did when it was programmed? What if it is winter time and you are wearing gloves?
What if the gun can legitimately be fired by any of several persons? Would a man need to bring himself, his wife, and his 21 year old son all in to get programmed?
What if someone with a gun is wounded or killed by a criminal? A bystander would be incapable of retrieving the gun and using it to defend against the criminal.
As I recall, there have also been cases when gun owners have retrieved a fallen police officer’s gun and used it in this manner. There are also cases in which gun owners have lent their guns to the police in emergencies. Smart guns would prevent this sort of civilian assistance.
Supporters say the law will help prevent accidental gun deaths and suicides.
In 1997, there were only 981 accidental deaths from firearms. This is compared to 93,329 from doctors’ negligence, 31,799 from automobiles, 15,447 by falls, 9,587 by poison, 4,051 by drowning, and 3,490 from fires.
As far as suicide, guns are only used in a little over half of all suicides. And there’s no data on how often the suicides with a gun involve use of someone else’s gun. It seems reasonable that this would happen most frequently with children, but in 1997 there were only 142 deaths from firearms among children aged 0-14. So it seems reasonable to think that the number of suicides that would be eliminated would be very low. And the kids that are prevented will likely turn to other means of committing suicide, such as poison, jumping, slashing their wrists, hanging themselves, etc.
Based on that data, it seems that we are solving the wrong problem.
I understand that the idea of a “smart gun” is not entirely without merit. But there are so many potential disadvantage that I think smart guns are a dumb idea.