Smart Guns Could Spell the End for Freedom

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Included in President Obama’s slate of executive gun control orders was a demand that the Department of Justice, together with Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, “conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.” According to a fact sheet released Monday, the administration wants these three federal agencies to “review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.”

There is, according to recent polls, considerable appetite in the American public for laws that would make smart guns the only legal form of firearms. This, despite the inconvenient fact that much of this technology is not quite ready for primetime.

Smart gun safety features range from biometric fingerprint locks to radio-controlled bracelets the user must wear. The technology itself enjoys support from gun owners, though many are wary about how reliable these safety measures will be in an emergency. As we all know, the more complexity you add to a device, the greater the chance of malfunction.

Writing in The New York Times last year, Nicholas Kristof asked, “Doesn’t it seem odd that your cellphone can be set up to require a PIN or a fingerprint, but there’s no such option for a gun?”

It’s a headscratcher, all right, until you realize that life and death will rarely depend on split-second cellphone access. And before you get hung up on the word he used – option – it’s important to consider the realities of the situation. Already, New Jersey law mandates that once smart guns are nationally available, distributors have three years to sell their remaining stock of traditional guns. After that, only smart guns will be legal.

The danger here is not that smart guns will be sold, or even that they will become wildly popular. The danger is that, not long after these guns hit the market, politicians will make it hard or impossible to buy anything else. Since some forms of this technology can be remotely accessed, criminals (or even the government) may be able to turn an owner’s gun into a very expensive paperweight. And exactly how long will it take dedicated hackers to compromise the security, rendering it useless as an anti-theft measure? A week?

The free market should decide the fate of smart guns. By calling on no fewer than three federal agencies to direct their resources to this technology, Obama puts us on the very path this nation’s gun owners feared. Today, the research; tomorrow, the laws.

Count on it.