One of two gadgets carried by James Bond in last year’s Skyfall was a palm-reading Walther PPK pistol, which locked up when a thug pointed it Bond’s way. Smart guns have been around since the ’90s, but for some reason, gun owners don’t want to buy them. Why not?
Gun advocates say they’re striving to keep firearm ownership limit-free, and gun manufacturers maintain that the demand simply isn’t there. As Meghan Neal writes for Vice, it may take a government mandate to implement personalization technology that limits use to registered gun owners. Of course, registration can easily fall between the cracks during private sales and vendor sales at firearms exhibitions, most of which don’t require background checks. Implementing smart gun tech would inhibit these sales, SUNY Cortland professor Robert J. Spitzer told the New York Times.
But hold on–gun owners love to hack their guns in other ways. Firearms tinkerers often work on analog modifications, though: Witness this roundup of AR-15 “modder types,” which illustrates gun hobbyists’ drive for performance (along with a pink paint job or two).
But digital hacking hasn’t captured the imaginations of gun owners yet. You could think of the equivalent of mechanics eschewing chip-synchronized modern cars for pre-’90s self-tunable machines–only recently have car modders begun messing with newer cars’ computer systems, as the tools and the knowledge have become democratized.
Still, modding is a huge draw for gun owners. Jon Stokes’ profile of the AR-15 and its transition from pariah to superstar of the gun modding world credits the gun’s hackability for uniting the hunting rifle old guard with the tactical-savvy community, presenting a united front advocating for gun rights. So what’s it going to take before these guys get into electronic gun hacking, and–let’s hope–some of the owner-specific features that could help prevent misfires?
Consider the Adafruit Flora, a pre-fabricated node that Adafruit builds off of with DIY recipes for practical application. It has all sorts of components from a GPS unit to a voice changer. Perhaps lining your M-4 with running lights isn’t at the top of your mod list–but you get the idea. Gun hackers need a simple, digital gun hacking kit. Instead of a GPS-powered, LED-lit directional bike helmet, let them create a gun whose safety turns on and off by the owner’s voice only, or one that can tell when it’s been stolen.
From fingerprint sensors to RFID chips keyed to a ring or wristband, “smart gun” tech today exists only in finished (and expensive) consumer products–not very exciting stuff if you love modding. Irish company TriggerSmart has even patented a childproof “smart gun” that shuts down when inside the radius of a school broadcasting a “Wide Area Control” safe zone signal–exactly the kind of thing gun owners hate. True, politics is at the heart of smart gun tech implementation, and Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts’s Personalized Handgun Safety Act of 2013 (which would require personalization of all guns sold within two years) has had an uphill battle in the House, even after the shooting at Sandy Hook.
In the face of gun control championed by liberal politicians and public safety campaigners, it’s easy to see gun modders falling on the conservative side of the divide. The de-politicization of gun modding seems nearly impossible today, especially as gun control advocates call for smaller magazines and bans on nebulously defined “assault rifles.” But kindred hacker spirits have built communities around improving the human experience before. Who will step up and start the digital gun hacking movement?
[Gun Pattern: LHF Graphics via Shutterstock]