“Do something!” is the cry we hear every time there is a well-publicized shooting crime or accident. Most recently the largest gun manufacturer in America, Smith & Wesson, agreed to do several things, ostensibly to prevent gun deaths but actually to avoid the threat of government litigation.
At least one of the terms Smith & Wesson agreed to is quite likely to backfire. “Smart gun” technology, which remains undeveloped and unproven, may cause more deaths and accidents than it prevents.
The National Institute of Justice has been funding research into smart gun technology for several years. The prototypes tested include electronic devices to transmit a code from the owner to the gun, biometric devices that would “read” a fingerprint or other physical pattern of the owner, and other assorted mechanical designs.
Smart gun technology is just like any other technology: progress depends on trial and error. Some day police officers and other law-abiding citizens may be able to rely on smart guns with confidence. That day is not here yet and may never arrive.
Experience so far shows the technology is plagued by technical problems (such as radio or magnetic frequency interference, battery failure) and complications that lead to operator error. Further, exactly how will a chip or transponder make a gun safer to keep or use?
Smart gun technology was originally intended for law enforcement use, not for civilians. Some owners may mistakenly believe “smart” means childproof and therefore fail to observe basic safety precautions. Ordinary people who rely on a smart gun for home self-defense may be left defenseless when, under the extreme stress of a home invasion situation, they simply cannot get their weapon to work.
The Clinton Administration, anti-gun advocates, and a growing tribe of trial lawyers are trying to force manufacturers to promise to sell smart guns without having made a sound study of the limitations of this technology. Experts in the technology, as well as law enforcement and self-defense experts, understand that mandating smart guns may substantially increase risks while adding little or no benefits.
The current vogue for high-tech gun control reminds us of the story of mandatory front-seat automatic air bags. Engineers had warned of the dangers of air bags from the time they were first proposed, but not until scores of children and smaller women had been killed by air bags did the Government finally agree to allow this “safety feature” to be deactivated on request.
Too bad the Government has decided to mandate smart guns rather than encourage smart people. We would consider it real progress if instead of crying “Do something!” folks responded to problems by saying, “Think first.”