Why "Smart" Guns are Dumb


So California just approved a new "Smart Gun" for use in their state. I am reminded of the classic line from Jurrasic Park:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: "... your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

What could possibly go wrong?

Sometime around 1500, "wheel lock" firearms were invented. In contrast with other projectile weapons of the age, which were primarily matchlock firearms or bows, wheel locks were the first firearms that could be carried concealed and instantly readied and fired, even one-handed. These features made them particularly suitable for self-defense, as "defense" is typically reactive in nature and leaves little time for the intended victim to prepare any meaningful resistance to a surprise attack. In 1518, however, Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I banned wheel locks throughout the Empire because he claimed they could be used to assassinate public officials (read: "tyrants"). This action left the populace at the mercy of highwaymen and various other thugs wielding swords, bows, clubs, etc... Things were so dangerous at this period in history that Maximillian was never actually crowned pope because the journey from Austria to Rome was deemed too hazardous. Almost 500 years later, technology is being used to render modern firearms impractical for self-defense by requiring fine motor skills, both hands, and complex circuitry to make them operative. This is all being done in the name of "safety" by people who, while experts perhaps in microelectronics, are not safety professionals, and more importantly, have absolutely no clue what happens in a violent confrontation apparently. We, (people) have a real problem with automatic competence, (See also: The Dunning-Kruger Effect). We have a predisposition to assume that almost everything to do with personal or public safety is "common sense," therefore anyone with an opinion is instantly an expert. If the last 15 years of being a career safety professional has taught me anything, its that most people's perception of what is safe and dangerous based on "common sense" is severely flawed, as is their estimation of their own knowledge and abilities.

So why are "smart" guns actually "dumb?" Mainly because they violate the K.I.S.S. principle. The more complexity that gets added to any system, the more likely it is to fail when it is needed most. Defensive weapons should be kept as simple as possible, which is why I advocate firearms without a lot of bells and whistles, thumb safeties, magazine disconnects, trigger locks, etc... A good defensive firearm has 4 user inputs - a magazine release, a slide, a slide stop and a trigger. These are all you need to load and unload the gun, clear malfunctions, and make it go bang with a minimum of manipulations, even one-handed in the dark and rain. Two examples of such firearms would be the Glock and some variants of the S&W M&P. In addition to the risk of mechanical failure that gets added with additional user inputs, comes the physiological compatibility aspect. On a calm sunny day on the range, someone may be able to leisurely punch in their safety code, don their RFID watch and ventilate tin cans or zombie targets to their heart's content with a minimum of difficulty. It may even boost their ego by making them feel a little like James Bond with their uber-special "signature gun." Now lets try that in the dark parking garage when 2 hooded thugs step out from some dark nook into your personal space. The adrenal response kicks in, duodenal mucosa gets sloughed off, the neocortex hasn't even fully processed what is happening before the paleo-mammalian portion of the brain, which insulates the logical part of the mind from the movement and action parts of the mind kicks in. At that point you would be better using that smart gun to bludgeon your attackers, because it's doubtful that almost anyone would be able to perform the complex actions necessary to make it ready to fire in the brief opportunity for reaction.

Oh yeah... and it's a .22

Now this is interesting because not only is .22 ammo a little hard to come by right now because of the national panic buying, lead-free .22 ammo is rare as hen's teeth under the best of conditions... and California just banned lead ammo to save the condors. So... good luck ever firing your new "smart gun."