Re: smart guns from Australia (for Damien and Mike)

Date: Fri Apr 14 2000 - 08:18:19 MDT

[Apologies for the late, out-of-phase participation, but I've been snowed
under at work lately.]

In a message dated 4/7/00 4:18:58 PM Central Daylight Time,

[regarding "smart gun" technology:]
> I don't discount the possibility, and if such is possible (it likely is) I
> will
> adamantly say that it should not be mandated until the technology can be
> integrated into any gun of any price teir.

There are two different questions here. The first is the general question of
whether an extropian should support pursuit of "smart gun" technology and the
other is whether it should be mandated by law at some stage of the
technology's development. Regarding your point on the first question, Mike,
I think there would be good reasons to implement the technology, once it is
sufficiently robust and flexible, in new weapons, even if it can't be
practically retrofitted into older guns. This is no different that seeking a
new car with airbags and seatbelts, even though it is impractical or even
undesirable to install those devices in older cars. I dream of one day
having a "full set" of Corvettes - at least one from each of the five major
generations (to date). It would be blasphemy to retrofit a well-preserved
1957 Corvette with seatblets, airbags and active handling control. But that
doesn't stop me from expecting to find such devices in a 2000 model year C-5.
 Likewise, it's hard to imagine that I would ever want to retrofit my
mint-condition 1953 SKS with a "smart-gun" module. (But I can see putting
one on my later-model Chinese SK that's already been pretty well bastardized
into a utilitarian saddle-pack brush gun.)

The other question - mandating "smart gun" tech by law - isn't NECESSARILY a
simple binary one of intrusive state power versus the liberty of gun owners.
The common law of negligence can act as an evolutionary motor for "mandating"
incremental employment of improved safety devices through changing
perceptions of "state of the art" and the gradual imposition of civil
liability on those who do not keep up and thereby cause harm to others. In
this regard I point you to my discussion of the use of this principle by the
distinguished Judge Learned Hand (yes, there was such a man) in the
celebrated case of The T.J. Hooper. You can find a discussion of this
process and the T.J. Hooper case in a paper I delivered at the 1998 Foresight
Senior Associates Gathering:

Thus I can envision a time when it would be negligent to not make a weapon
that was "loyal" to its owner. It might well not be considered negligent to
"upgrade" legitimate antique weapons, but the standards for their use would
then be much higher.

> The fact is that the 'smart'
> technologies that are out right now are highly restrictive, highly prone to
> failure, and add a minimum of $1000.00 on the price of any given gun. When
> your
> average pistol costs $350.00-450.00, putting what amounts to a 200% tax on
> the
> gun only does one thing: it makes it impossible for poor people, who are
> most
> likely to live in high crime areas and are most freqently victims of crime
> and
> are most likely of a minority group), to defend themselves against crime.
> This
> is an elitist and racist policy to propose until it can be afforded by
> The
> dirty little secret of the Democratic Party is that most gun control laws
> passed
> prior to 1950 were part of Jim Crow legislation. What cop is gonna let a
> black
> man carry a gun?

All these points fit neatly into the kind of analysis one finds in the T.J.
Hooper: You make a good case that the technology has not yet evolved to the
point where we can fairly consider it to be the state of the art. On the
other hand, such arguments shouldn't be taken to be conclusive against the
impetus to continue developing that art - which I don't think you do.
> Back to the cost: Those that claim the logic can be designed into a single
> chip
> and made for a few cents are thinking in the wrong scale. Chip
> of
> scale of this magnitude occur when you reach hundreds of thousands, if not
> millions of units each year. While a couple million guns are sold each
> in
> the US at most, they are made by several dozen gun manufacturers. Each one
> of
> these manufacturers will have to come up with its own chip design (if not
> multiple chip designs), since sharing designs like this is collusion and an
> anti-trust actionable offense. Each manufacturer will never make more than
> hundred thousand or so chips a year. For those of you in chip design, who
> might
> want to advance gun technology so that it is affordable, I suggest you
> a
> chip design, and make it free and open source like linux is, start
> manufacturing
> up, and get the prices down. And design it so that the government can't
> it
> as a means of gun control/registration/permitting.

I think you're right about all this, but that an advanced MEMS robotics
technology could make a "smart trigger guard" practicable at a reasonable
cost. Sketching designs for such devices in my mind has become a drive-time
pastime for me lately. A key to this would be the development of a
general-purpose "recognizer" chip, that would have uses in many applications
beyond "smart gun" tech, and therefore could become inexpensive with
economies of scale from general demand from those other uses. This would be
coupled with a "trigger-inhibitor" arm that would consist of an array of MEMS
lever arms. This latter device would also be able to use many components
that would be useful in broader applications. The only unique characteristic
would be the general arrangement of these components. Newly manufactured
weapons could incorporate these components seamlessly into the general body
of the firearm, while retrofit kits might be somewhat more clunky. In any
case, I don't see why a smart gun couldn't become an acceptable definition of
the state of the art in time.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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