Why Cops Don’t Like Smart Guns

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Why Cops Don’t Like Smart Guns

A “smart gun” is a weapon that requires the shooter to iden­tify them­selves before fir­ing. This is not a new idea, and every month a new smart gun is released that promises to fix the prob­lems of the last generation.

As with any new tech­nol­ogy, if smart guns are to be suc­cess­ful, their adop­tion will be dri­ven by those who have most need for them. For hand­guns, that’s the Police force. No mat­ter how large and ded­i­cated the gun enthu­si­ast com­mu­nity is, the aver­age law enforce­ment offi­cer will fire more rounds, and be in more dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions, than the vast major­ity of other gun owners.

To see whether smart guns are going to be the next big thing, then, we should ask the police if they like them. The answer is no.

What Are Smart Guns?

Good ques­tion. Smart guns are essen­tially guns that require some form of secu­rity autho­riza­tion in order to fire. Sev­eral approaches to this have been tried, rang­ing from fin­ger­print sen­sors, radio-​frequency iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (RFID), to mag­nets and bio­met­ric sen­sors.

The idea for Smart Guns has been around for quite a while, but the nascent indus­try was given a huge boost in 2016, when Obama used a speech on gun con­trol to ask: “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fin­ger­print, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?”

Since then, sev­eral com­pa­nies have tried to develop an “iPhone of guns”, with the Armatix IP1 so far gen­er­at­ing the most head­lines. Nev­er­the­less, smart guns remain a niche market.

Are They Smart? Are They Guns?

There are many rea­sons for this, rang­ing from con­cerns about the secu­rity of such weapons to some slightly absurd laws on their sale.

Let’s take the secu­rity issue first. It took approx­i­mately 2 weeks for a “hacker” to get around the secu­rity fea­tures on the Armatix smart gun, using mag­nets avail­able at your local hard­ware store. And far from mak­ing future weapons more secure, adding new tech­nol­ogy to guns might actu­ally make them more vul­ner­a­ble: reported back in 2015 that computer-​enabled sniper rifles could also be hacked, much like web­sites. Not so smart after all.

Then we have the legal issues. New Jer­sey passed a law back in 2002 that imposed a time limit: as soon as smart guns were avail­able in the State, “tra­di­tional” weapons had to be with­drawn from sale within 3 years. The ensu­ing back­lash, in which local gun shops were threat­ened, led to the State leg­is­la­tor decree­ing that smart guns were not, in fact, guns.

Why Cops Don’t Like Them

Despite nearly 60 per cent of Amer­i­cans say­ing that they would pur­chase a smart gun if given the chance, law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als remain unmoved by the new technology.

To see why, we need to con­sider what kind of weapon police offi­cers carry, and how they carry it. It might not sur­prise you to learn most offi­cers are pretty old school, car­ry­ing a hefty pis­tol where it can be drawn quickly: think a 1911 pis­tol in a shoul­der hol­ster, not a .22 stuffed down their sock.

This points to the two major rea­sons why the police force remain skep­ti­cal of smart guns: they are not pow­er­ful enough, and are still not totally reli­able. Tech­nolo­gies like fin­ger­print scan­ners, as any­one who has a smart phone knows, sim­ply do not work all the time: all it takes is a dirty sen­sor, and you will be locked out of your gun. In addi­tion, the most widely avail­able smart guns are cham­bered in .22, which most police offi­cers regard as com­pletely under­pow­ered for the dan­gers they face.

Smart gun man­u­fac­tur­ers are try­ing to address these con­cerns. Smart guns cham­bered in the more pow­er­ful 9mm round are being devel­oped, as are weapons that require a PIN code rather than rely­ing on a fin­ger­print scanner.

But per­haps the biggest issue block­ing the adop­tion of smart guns is sim­ply that the police do not want to be using untested tech­nol­ogy. “Police offi­cers in gen­eral, fed­eral offi­cers in par­tic­u­lar, shouldn’t be asked to be the guinea pigs in eval­u­at­ing a firearm that nobody’s even seen yet,” James Pasco, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Fra­ter­nal Order of Police, told Politico at the time of the Obama push. “We have some very, very seri­ous questions.”

Until these ques­tions can be answered, it is very unlikely that smart guns will be adopted by law enforce­ment. And with­out that endorse­ment, they are unlikely to make a splash in the civil­ian mar­ket either.

A “smart gun” is a weapon that requires the shooter to identify themselves before firing. This is not a new idea, and every month a new smart gun is released that promises to fix the problems of the last generation.

As with any new technology, if smart guns are to be successful, their adoption will be driven by those who have most need for them. For handguns, that’s the Police force. No matter how large and dedicated the gun enthusiast community is, the average law enforcement officer will fire more rounds, and be in more dangerous situations, than the vast majority of other gun owners.

To see whether smart guns are going to be the next big thing, then, we should ask the police if they like them. The answer is no.

What Are Smart Guns?

Good question. Smart guns are essentially guns that require some form of security authorization in order to fire. Several approaches to this have been tried, ranging from fingerprint sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID), to magnets and biometric sensors.

The idea for Smart Guns has been around for quite a while, but the nascent industry was given a huge boost in 2016, when Obama used a speech on gun control to ask: “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?”

Since then, several companies have tried to develop an “iPhone of guns”, with the Armatix IP1 so far generating the most headlines. Nevertheless, smart guns remain a niche market.

Are They Smart? Are They Guns?

There are many reasons for this, ranging from concerns about the security of such weapons to some slightly absurd laws on their sale.

Let’s take the security issue first. It took approximately 2 weeks for a “hacker” to get around the security features on the Armatix smart gun, using magnets available at your local hardware store. And far from making future weapons more secure, adding new technology to guns might actually make them more vulnerable: reported back in 2015 that computer-enabled sniper rifles could also be hacked, much like websites. Not so smart after all.

Then we have the legal issues. New Jersey passed a law back in 2002 that imposed a time limit: as soon as smart guns were available in the State, “traditional” weapons had to be withdrawn from sale within 3 years. The ensuing backlash, in which local gun shops were threatened, led to the State legislator decreeing that smart guns were not, in fact, guns.

Why Cops Don’t Like Them

Despite nearly 60 per cent of Americans saying that they would purchase a smart gun if given the chance, law enforcement professionals remain unmoved by the new technology.

To see why, we need to consider what kind of weapon police officers carry, and how they carry it. It might not surprise you to learn most officers are pretty old school, carrying a hefty pistol where it can be drawn quickly: think a 1911 pistol in a shoulder holster, not a .22 stuffed down their sock.

This points to the two major reasons why the police force remain skeptical of smart guns: they are not powerful enough, and are still not totally reliable. Technologies like fingerprint scanners, as anyone who has a smart phone knows, simply do not work all the time: all it takes is a dirty sensor, and you will be locked out of your gun. In addition, the most widely available smart guns are chambered in .22, which most police officers regard as completely underpowered for the dangers they face.

Smart gun manufacturers are trying to address these concerns. Smart guns chambered in the more powerful 9mm round are being developed, as are weapons that require a PIN code rather than relying on a fingerprint scanner.

But perhaps the biggest issue blocking the adoption of smart guns is simply that the police do not want to be using untested technology. “Police officers in general, federal officers in particular, shouldn’t be asked to be the guinea pigs in evaluating a firearm that nobody’s even seen yet,” James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, told Politico at the time of the Obama push. “We have some very, very serious questions.”

Until these questions can be answered, it is very unlikely that smart guns will be adopted by law enforcement. And without that endorsement, they are unlikely to make a splash in the civilian market either.