This week, the National Institute of Justice, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, released a document entitled, “Baseline Specifications for Law Enforcement Service Pistols with Security Technology.”
Translated from Bureaucratese, the title might read, “Toward a ‘Smart Gun’ that Cops Could Tolerate.”
The effort was part of the Obama Administration’s initiative, launched at the beginning of the year, to “[s]hape the future of gun safety technology.” This, in turn, was part of a series of executive actions the White House purportedly undertook to “reduce gun violence.” Really, though, most were just empty gestures meant to placate a gun control constituency that was disappointed Congress had spurned efforts to restrict Second Amendment rights.
With respect to “smart guns,” the president issued a memorandum on Jan. 4, 2016, directing the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security and the Attorney General to “consult with other agencies that acquire firearms and take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.”
That led to an effort by these agencies to develop a list of features that any “smart gun” would have to meet in order to be considered acceptable for use by law enforcement officers.
Importantly, neither the president nor the agencies actually mandated the adoption of the technology nor even committed themselves to giving the technology consideration for actual adoption, should a compliant version of it actually come to fruition.
In fact, just what the effort accomplished, or what it meant to accomplish, is not clear.
But it appears the president hopes to portray the publication of the document as a “win” during his waning days in office.
And his surrogates on Capitol Hill were desperate to portray it that way as well. Connecticut senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal – both staunch gun control advocates – issued a statement praising the move. “In a world where thumbprints unlock smartphones, I refuse to believe that we can’t develop the technology to ensure guns can only be fired only by their owners,” Murphy stated, echoing a talking point used by the president himself.
Had the Connecticut senators actually read the published specifications, however, they would have realized that any system based on a user’s fingerprints likely would not pass muster. Among other things, the specifications state that the user has to be able to fire the gun the same way, with or without the “security device” and with or without gloves.
Indeed, the specifications would appear to preclude most existing approaches to “personalized” handguns, including grip recognition, fingerprints, and the inputting of codes. RFID would theoretically be possible, but the gun would still have to meet stringent requirements for reliability, durability, and versatility taken from actual handgun solicitations issued by the federal government.
At the end of the day, though, two required specifications seemingly would render the whole exercise moot. The first requires the system to “default to a state to allow the pistol to fire” in the event the “security device” malfunctions. The second requires the operator to be able to “quickly reset or disengage” the security device if a malfunction occurs.
And that, of course, says it all when it comes to the supposed “wisdom” of “smart guns.” Any firearm that won’t fire when it’s needed just isn’t “smart.” And any “security” system that defaults to turning itself off during a problem just isn’t secure.
A lot of busy people with important duties thus spent their valuable time (to say nothing of taxpayer resources) running around in circles, so President Obama could pretend he was being proactive on “gun safety.”