So-called “smart guns” are a staple of futuristic science-fiction, a trope as recognizable as laser blasters and artificial gravity. The idea has an understandable appeal: a gun that, through some electronic or biometric verification, will only fire when in the hands of its authorized user.
The notion has attracted attention beyond the realm of science fiction, however. States like New Jersey have passed so-called “trigger laws” that will make smart-gun technology the only legal option, as soon as they are available and on the market.
A recent expose demonstrates why firearms enthusiasts are so wary of this idea. As neat as it sounds in theory, adding such complications can severely compromise the reliability of a gun, which is otherwise a simple mechanical machine honed over centuries to fire when, and only when, the trigger is pulled.
Writing at Wired, Andy Greenberg found that the Armatix IP1, which claims to only be firable by somebody wearing a special wristwatch, is in fact easily hacked. Even worse, the gun’s safety features can be defeated altogether by the simple expedient of cheap magnets:
Plore showed that he can extend the range of the watch’s radio signal, allowing anyone to fire the gun when it’s more than ten feet away. He can jam the gun’s radio signals to prevent its owner from firing it—even when the watch is inches away and connected. And most disturbingly, he can mechanically disable the gun’s locking mechanism by placing some cheap magnets alongside its barrel, firing the gun at will even when the watch is completely absent.
Nobody wants a gun that fails when you need it most. Maybe at some point in the future smart-gun technology will advance in reliability, but for the time being, it is not a serious solution to the gun control debate. Nobody needing a firearm for self-defense would put their life at risk with some bit of unreliable electronic wizardry. If your smartphone or laptop fails, you either get it fixed or get a new one. If your handgun fails when you need it, you might not live to regret it.
(Photo of Armatix “smart gun”)