Smart Guns are for Stupid People

by L. Neil Smith

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

The glad tidings, that the once-mighty Smith & Wesson has been sold by its English owners for a garage-sale fraction of its book value to an Arizona company with five employees, should be savored by anyone who cares about the Second Amendment. The former Springfield, Massachusetts giant made a Devil’s bargain with a subcreature even the Devil would be chagrined to be associated with, William Jefferson Blythe Clinton. The shooters’ boycott that ensued cut its retail sales in half, forcing the closure of at least two of its manufacturing facilities.

Still, the fight isn’t quite over. The Arizona company is owned by a former S&W executive, apparently its specialty is “safety” systems for personal weapons — gun safes and gun locks — and there is now talk of its continuing the threatened development of so-called “smart” guns.

A “smart” gun is different from a “smart” missile or a “smart” bomb. It doesn’t help the shooter put a bullet precisely where he wants it. A “smart” gun is a weapon — in some socialist Utopian dream — that won’t work for anybody but the person who is authorized to use it.

At first blush it seems like a splendid notion, one that the great science fiction writer A.E. van Vogt anticipated in his stories, half a century ago, about The Weapon Shops of Isher, [also paperback] whose motto was, “The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.” The idea is that the proper bearer of the weapon wears a Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring or a Wonder Woman bracelet that somehow — magnetically, electronically — informs the gun that its rightful user is holding it.

The innocent proponents of this idea see it as the solution to practically every problem there is regarding the illegal or immoral use of weapons. Rest assured that the victim disarmament industry sees it as a solution, too — to their goal of getting rid of the Second Amendment.

I won’t spend much time here on technical objections. I’ve been a gunsmith for something like 34 years, and a student of the history of weapons for longer than that. Historically, the evolution of personal weapons has been astonishingly slow and conservative. The Army didn’t adopt a semiautomatic sidearm until 15 or 20 years after they had been invented, and police departments took another 60 or 70 years after that. Firearms professionals are wary regarding new inventions because lives — often their own lives — depend on them. Semiautomatic rifles were invented around the turn of the century, but the Germans — who might have been expected to be the most progressive in this context — didn’t begin to use them until the desperate final days of World War Two.

Likewise, the most reliable and effective handgun ever conceived — the Dardick with its trochoidal “trounds” — never even made it to the market. John Moses Browning’s monumental 1911 Colt .45 has some 39 parts. Modern “wonderguns” (double action high capacity semiautos in various calibers) require more like 50 or 55 parts to achieve their “wonders”. Sometimes it seems worth the added complication, sometimes not.

“Smart” gun technology is just another thing — an unnecessary thing — that can go wrong. Anything that keeps your gun from firing if something gets broken or you don’t hold it just right, places a weapon in the enemy’s hand just as effectively as if you handed him your own.

And yes, it is unnecessary. I once saw a nifty demonstration of a safety system that does work — for those who remain obsessed with what has become a non-problem, thanks largely to improved holster design in the 1960s. A Canadian Mountie, staring down the barrel of his own revolver, its hammer cocked, in the hands of a colleague pretending to be a bad guy, simply gave a practiced tug on the lanyard he wore around his neck, attached to a steel ring at the base of the grip.

The gun swiveled neatly around the bad guy’s trigger finger, and at the very moment that the muzzle was pointing at the bad guy’s face, the trigger finished being pulled by the initial tug, and the hammer fell. If it had been loaded, it would have neatly blown the bad guy’s head off.

Talk about a smart system.

By contrast: in addition to being a poor solution to a problem being handled better by other, less complicated means, the “smart” gun will get police officers killed and dismembered — yes, dismembered — their fingers or hands cut off by opponents determined to have the cop’s gun and the means, high-tech bracelet or ring, to make it work. Think back to _Demolition Man_, when Wesley Snipes defeats the prison’s retinal pattern reader, employing the warden’s eyeball on a stick.

But it gets even worse.

The technology involved in most “smart” gun designs is only one tiny step away from a real nightmare, the even “smarter” gun. Imagine a day, coming sooner than you think, when, by remote control, and for corrupt political reasons having absolutely nothing to do with a cop’s tactical situation, the “suits” downtown can actually turn his gun off.

I’ll repeat that for the police officers among my readers: what happens when the suits downtown can turn your gun off? I was a cop once myself, of sorts. I have an idea what the suits are capable of. Maybe they’re afraid of starting a riot, and your being unable to defend yourself represents an “acceptable loss”, a human sacrifice to propitiate the TV god. In any case, they don’t give a damn whether you live or die out there, as long as they keep getting reelected and their appropriations keep going up. If you’re a cop, talk this over with your brother officers — and with your union representatives — immediately.

It’s just as bad where non-cops are concerned. Once the technology is “perfected” (you know, like the version of Microsoft Windows I’m using to write this column?), politicians and bureaucrats will rupture themselves trying to make it mandatory. Do you doubt that the suits in Los Angeles would have hesitated, even for a picosecond, to switch off the weapons Korean merchants used to defend their otherwise undefended shops during the Rodney King riots, neatly ridding themselves of those folks annoying enough to insist on keeping their lives, property, and rights?

For more information on this topic, see “Dead Batteries Make Dead People: The truth about restricted-use firearms and trigger locks” by Aaron Zelman and Richard Stevens.

Meanwhile, here’s something else to chew on. Last year, when Smith & Wesson betrayed us by signing onto a hideously anti-gun agreement with Bill Clinton, I wrote a controversial column called “S&W Must Die”. Corporations working on “smart” gun technology must die, too — before they finish off our rights — including the one in Arizona that just bought a very bruised and bloodied S&W for 15 cents on the dollar.


Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for Number 124, June 4, 2001

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