Is it safe?

One of the central claims of the gun control movement is that the advocates seek to make us safer.  This sounds like an admirable goal, provided that we don’t analyze things too carefully.  But on closer inspection, things aren’t so simple or noble.

An illustration of this is the effort to promote and eventually require so-called smart guns.  New Jersey passed a law in 2002 mandating that all guns sold within the state must have devices allowing them to function only in the hands of authorized users three years after such technology is shown to be practical.  This law is being reconsidered, since its author has come to understand that companies haven’t done work in the area of “smart guns” to avoid bringing the law into effect.

A handful of firms have come up with working models.  The best known of these is the Armatix iP1 pistol, a .22 L.R. caliber handgun with a ten-round magazine.  But is an iPistol a good idea?

The current caliber presumably is just a proof of concept, but the magazine capacity raises concerns, ten being the magic number for gun control supporters—at least until they can get seven accepted by the courts.  Of course, space for batteries and electronics at present doesn’t leave much room for other things.  Another problem is the price.  The pistol itself is $1,400, and the activating watch adds $400 more.

A pistol with required accessories that costs more than four times a Ruger .22 isn’t going to sell in large numbers in America, and that may be exactly the point of New Jersey’s law.  Advocates of control can argue—disingenuously, in my view—that gun rights can still be exercised if some gun is for sale.  But surely a nation in which rights are available only to the wealthy isn’t the kind of country we believe in.

And there’s the question of reliability.  Batteries work until they’re needed, and guns are exposed to sweat, blood, and lubricating oil and release significant kinetic energy in operating.  And the RFID technology such as what’s used in the Armatix design is susceptible to hacking.  Hackers have found ways to shut down cars remotely through the electronics, so this isn’t mere paranoia.

But it’s not just Luddites like me who have concerns over the working of these guns.  Self-defense trainers advise us to practice shooting with our weak hands in case the dominant one gets injured or otherwise taken out of action, say by an attacker grappling with us.  Many of us who carry handguns keep a backup piece somewhere else on our persons, that raises compatibility problems if the BUG is made by a different manufacturer.  And if we need to hand off a pistol to an unarmed good person, transferring accessibility is a challenge.

Then there’s the matter of the hundreds of millions of guns currently in this country and many extant in the rest of the world.  One of my favorite guns in my collection, a Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless, is over a hundred years old, and it functions flawlessly to this day.  As with most gun control proposals, mandating “smart guns” is an exercise in wishful thinking.

Don’t misunderstand me in this discussion.  I have a fondness for the old—a cap-and-ball revolver, an M1911—but I can accept new ideas.  When a working phaser goes on sale, I’ll be in line to buy a few.  But the freedom to buy or not has to stay with the consumer.  And substituting gadgetry for good sense is often a doubtful project.

Perhaps someday a working smart gun will be made and sold.  As long as the choice remains with each of us individually, that’s fine.  But that is the key question of gun control generally and in this case specifically.  How much choice will we have left to us?

The answer is just as much as we’re willing to stand up for.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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