The (Not So) Smart Gun: An In-Depth Explanation of Why It Will Never Work


The (Not So) Smart Gun: An In-Depth Explanation of Why It Will Never Work

When Obama announced support for smart gun research as part of his end-of-term gun control push, I had already written a 3,000-word comprehensive takedown of the whole concept of smart guns for that specifically addresses the president’s “remote stolen gun locator” idea. Here’s the ending of it, which contains a summary:

To sum up, smart guns aren’t gonna happen because electronic locks will never be reliable enough that the shooting public will embrace them. It’s possible that cops might eventually warm up to smart guns, because cops open carry and are at constant risk of having their own guns used against them. But for every law abiding citizen who’s not carrying openly and/or wearing a uniform that screams “guy with a gun right here!”, smart guns are just not going to be attractive for the reasons outlined above.

Even if the public warms up to smart guns, this won’t stop criminals from firing stolen weapons, because there’s no way to lock down a firearm or any other gadget in such a way that it can’t be “jailbroken.” Criminals will just remove the locks, or even worse, they’ll learn to remotely disable the guns of victims and police. And for law-abiding concealed carriers who leave the electronic locks in place, any scheme that relies on wireless technology will effectively make such people open carriers for anyone who can eavesdrop on the signal.

If smart gun proponents are really serious about saving lives, they’ll quit wasting time on a doomed quest for a quick technological fix to a nasty set of social problems, and instead focus their efforts on changes that could actually save lives. How about ending the war on drugs, demilitarizing the police, advocating for prison reform, investing in street-level intervention programs, or stopping the drone strikes and the endless military interventions that kill countless civilians and radicalize the survivors. Even a small victory in any one of those areas would save more lives than the most advanced smart gun imaginable.

But all of that stuff that I just suggested is hard, and it involves politics, and our politics seem more hopelessly broken with every day that passes. So I certainly get the appeal of going around the system and throwing some Silicon Valley “disruption” at the problem of gun violence. And as the father of three beautiful little girls I wish to God that there were a killer app that could stop or even measurably reduce the killing. But there isn’t, and until someone invents a technology that can address the deeper, systemic problems that drive Americans from all walks of life to arm themselves, there never will be.

The piece itself is not about politics. The ending quoted above is the only “political” part of it. It’s not even really pro-gun; it’s more like pro-sanity and pro-reality. It goes through the issue point-by-point and addresses the problems with smart guns in detail. I focus on the technology angle, and on the problem of unforeseen consequences. I also try to give the tech crowd some insight into the mindset of gun owners, and why there is no market for this technology absent a government mandate.

So the next time you get into a fracas on Facebook over the smart gun issue with someone who’s convinced that a magical piece of technology will prevent the wrong people from firing guns in the wrong places, this will help.

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Jon Stokes is Deputy Editor at

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