Fairy Tales vs. Hard-Headed Realism

Fairy Tales vs. Hard-Headed Realism January 25, 2013

So here’s what I’ve learned from some comboxers this week.

1. Any proposal to attempt to create arms that can be security-keyed only to the authorized user(s) is “science fiction” and “fairy tales”. All such proposals should be slapped down in the vigorous tradition of the Can’t Do American Spirit of Hopeless Passivity Before Mild Technological Challenges that have made it impossible to send a man to the Moon or put passwords on cell phones. The watchword from these comboxers is “Give up. Don’t try. Won’t work. You are an idiot.”

2. Secession from the Union is totally realistic and practical. It will not result in massive bloodshed or civil war because American gun culture (the epicenter of secessionism) is identical to Sweden. Those who have been urging preparation for it in the panic since Sandy Hook–by appealing to the Second Amendment as our guarantor of the right to wage war on the tyranny of HITLERSTALINMAOBAMA when he comes for our guns, tries to march us into concentration camps, and imposes Islamonazicommieatheistsharia law–have a clear-headed and prudent grasp of the political reality on the ground in the US at present, as well as a sober grasp of Just War teaching, and a completely pacific intent that is in no way envisioning armed insurrection. If secession *does* turn into a shooting war secessionists will be able to console themselves in their dying moments that it was the Feds who fired the first shots. Because there is totally no chance that fomenting talk of “second amendment solutions” against the Feds would inspire somebody to detonate a bomb outside a Federal building in Oklahoma or fly a plane into a building in an act of terrorism.

No. Not *that* act of terrorism done by damn foreigners who hate America and freedom. This act of terrorism, done by a red-blooded patriot who loved America and freedom so much he was willing to attack his country and kill his countrymen to show it.

So: Reasonable tech fixes that leave guns in the hands of responsible people and make them useless to bad guys? Give up. Don’t try. Won’t work. Abandon hope. Can’t do. Unrealistic. Fairy tale.

Secession? Smart! Can do! Totally realistic and not crazy or anything! And guaranteed to be peaceful and successful! Because Sweden!

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  • Nick R

    I missed the giant debate, so this was probably already covered, but it seems that you could simply adapt current gun locks ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_safety#Locks ) for biometrics. That way you would be able to keep old or antique guns and upgrade them, simply by fitting the trigger with a modern lock (which is removable when one wants to use the weapon).
    Have harsh penalties for having any gun unlocked when it is not on the person of the owner or someone they have entrusted it to.
    Depending on the mechanism of the lock used, it might not be as completely foolproof as your “only fireable by the owner” design, but it’s completely doable, and might well fall into the category of “good enough”.

    • Mark Shea

      Impossible. Can’t be done. Fairy tale. It should not even be attempted. Hopeless. Waste of time. Try living in reality. Science fiction.

      • Nick R

        Silly me. I must’ve spent too much time talking about Star Wars and Star Trek today to think straight.

      • Kenneth

        I just had one of those neuron-misfiring images that chilled my blood a bit: What if the present day gun lobby had infected the Allied Command or Winston Churchill with their thinking? “We’ll never catch up with those German engineers, and anyway we can’t afford it…”

        Things would never be the same, but I suppose our boy scouts would have some snappy uniforms, and we wouldn’t have so many slackers on the West Coast. The Imperial Japanese had a certain way of instilling discipline and dedication in young men, not to mention a vigorous morning calesthenics program…..

  • Noel

    Boy, you sure learned a lot this week. I propose you stop thinking and only read comboxes from here on out.

    • Mark Shea


  • Nick R

    On a semirandom note, because I’ve been seeing a few suspiciously high facts about defensive gun uses repeated ad nauseam recently, I spent a few hours trying to find the original source of the “550 rapes and 1,100 murders a day prevented” and “2,500,000 crimes per year thwarted,” which I have seen posted about 83 times in the past month.
    Unsurprisingly, turns out to be a heavily biased study by a gun advocacy group in 1994, which has been criticized heavily. On pages 9-10 of this document from the US DOJ one can see them describe the issues with the figure, and their correction of it: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/165476.pdf
    A more accurate number is somewhere between 80,000-160,000 defensive gun uses per year, or about 300 total per day. A large number of these could still be false positives, because both studies are survey based, not based on actual police reports or anything so substantial.

    This isn’t really an argument for either side, just a correction of facts that I wanted to post somewhere because it took me a long time to find the actual source and substantiate it, posting it makes me happy. I hope you won’t mind.

    • “joe”

      thanks nick, this is the kind of solid stuff that is buried repeatedly by partisans

      • ivan_the_mad

        Indeed, thanks Nick. We’ve seen a lot of numbers tossed about which are often accepted at face value, but very few references.

    • Oregon Catholic

      The statistic I’d really like to see concerning homeowners and their guns is the ratio of legitimate self-defense killings of intruders/attackers to domestic killings by intention, accident, and suicide.
      Anyone seen that one?

      Common sense tells me it would be heavily skewed toward the domestic side and people who buy guns for self-defense are more likely than not putting themselves and their household at risk. Not that I think people shouldn’t have a gun for protection if they want one. Only that they should go into it with their eyes wide open to the dangers, which I don’t think they will ever hear about from the NRA, American Handgunner, or their local gun dealer.

      • KM

        From the American Journal of Epidemiology, 2004:
        Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study


        “Data from a US mortality follow-back survey were analyzed to determine whether having a firearm in the home increases the risk of a violent death in the home and whether risk varies by storage practice, type of gun, or number of guns in the home.”

        “Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). ”

        “The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9). Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method (adjusted odds ratio = 31.1, 95% confidence interval: 19.5, 49.6).”

        “Data for this study are from the 1993 National Mortality Followback Survey, which is based on a nationally representative 10 percent systematic sample of decedents aged 15 years or older in the United States (25). All 50 states with the exception of South Dakota, which was excluded because of a state law restricting the use of death certificates for research purposes, are represented in the National Mortality Followback Survey. “

        • KM

          Here’s another study:


          Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home
          The New England Journal of Medicine, October 1993

          • Oregon Catholic

            Thank you. What do you make of the fact that the studies are from 1993 and nothing(?) since then.

            • KM

              I’ve read that the NRA successfully put pressure on Congress and various groups to stop studying gun violence since “gun control” was considered too “political.” Maybe Congress was able to pass the original 1994 ban by making a “deal” with pro-gun groups that included no more studies.

              One of Obama’s 23 EO’s is asking the CDC to begin studying deaths by firearm as well as looking at other factors that may influence violence so that we can have better, newer data.

              • Oregon Catholic

                Well, I wonder how all the people who want to claim the NRA is all about education and safety and training would field that one!
                Thanks again for the data.

        • “joe”

          anyone else’s life is expendable so that gun lovers can keep their assault machines.

  • Scott

    That type of technology would be feasible, however, there are 300,000,000 firearms in the country now and not one of them would have the device and no one owning one is going to take it in for the update, especially not criminals or the mentally unstable.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “no one owning one is going to take it in for the update”

      Sure they would. We’re assured that the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens. If the the device became a legal requirement, the overwhelming majority of gun owners would take their guns in for the update because they abide by the law. QED.

      I keep trigger locks on my guns now and I’m not even legally required to do so by either my local or state laws. If you’re worried about having a weapon on hand in case some armed criminal breaks down your door, they sell plenty of quick access safes that utilize either numeric codes, hand prints, finger prints, or some combination thereof. This stuff is already out there in some form or another.

      P.S. – I’m not quite on board with Mark’s proposal, but I do find it quite reasonable because it’s a) within the realm of the possible and b) the status quo sucks.

    • Kenneth

      It’s not realistic or necessary that everyone bring in all their stuff to retrofit in the first year, or ever. It’s about changing the new manufacture and import market to a totally different standard while also drying up the ammo supply for the older non-converted guns, as I read the original proposal. Fixes like this would take a generation or more to reach their full effect.

      • Mark Shea

        Yep. It’s actually a pretty modest fix. The model in my mind is the evolution of computer hardware/software over time making old tech obsolete and undesireable. It’s easily achievable. But only for a civilization not dominated by a gun lobby perpetually shouting, “Can’t Do! Give up! Won’t work! Don’t try! Don’t even attempt to *imagine* ways these objections might be overcome and bugs ironed out.”

    • Mark Shea

      I addressed all that. But thanks for that expression of the Can’t Do spirit of the gun lobby.

  • Kirt Higdon

    It’s not a matter of the technology not being feasible, but of it rendering the gun less usable and more expensive. This would not be a problem if there were no guns without the technology, but such guns exist in vast quantities and will continue to be manufactured in vast quantities legally. No military, for example, will want to arm its soldiers with guns which can only be fired by specific individuals. Private owners will not, for the most part, want to pay extra for a less usable gun. So the market will remain for the more usable guns. And even guns with the single user only technology can be obtained by criminals and programmed for their own use. Such guns might save lives, however, in the rare instances of someone having his own gun taken away from him in a struggle and used against him. This circumstance might particularly apply to police. I wonder if they want single user only weapons for themselves.

    • Mark Shea

      Can’t Do! Give up! Won’t work! Don’t try! Don’t even attempt to *imagine* ways these objections might be overcome and bugs ironed out.

    • Oregon Catholic

      Admit it Kirt. It would make it too hard to sell and swap guns privately, which is the real objection to having a gun only one (or two?) people could fire. We wouldn’t even have to worry about the private sale/gun show loophole anymore if every gun had to go to an authorized dealer to have it’s biometrics changed. We could also catch any felons via their fingerprints if they tried to have a gun altered to fit them. The list of potential solutions to any more guns getting into criminal hands is almost endless. But like Mark said, no can do…

      • Kirt Higdon

        Guns would still be bought and sold privately, just not legally – same as drugs are now.

        • Oregon Catholic

          Only if they could change the biometrics. That can be made very hard, to impossible, to do. No one is going to buy the gun if they can’t shoot it.

          • Kirt Higdon

            Since there are hundreds of millions of guns in existence without biometrics and since hundreds of millions more would continue to be manufactured both legally (for the military and abroad) and illegally, there would be no need to change any biometrics.

        • Mark, when you make a policy proposal, asking questions like

          — “How much will this cost?”
          — “What goods will be sacrificed to obtain the goods you want?”
          — “Will we be better off making this exchange?”

          is far from unreasonable. It deserves a more reasoned response than “You’re just possessed by the Can’t Do Spirit, so I ignore you!”

          You aren’t the first to take a serious look at signature guns. Sandia National Laboratory did so, back around 2000. Their goals were far more modest than yours: they wanted a cop who had some thug take control of his gun, to have at least 60s to run away before said thug could shoot him with it. At that time, there was no such tech that could feasibly be implemented.

          Both batteries and electronic locks are much better now than they were then. A ring or bracelet with an RFID and an electronic device to disable the action of a firearm when said ring or bracelet is more than a foot away is probably within reach of current tech, although it will be expensive to develop and implement. Who will pay for it? What will we give up? And will we be better off?

          YOU are the proponent. YOU overcome the objections. You do this all the time, for our shared doctrines and dogmas, in your role as a Catholic lay apologist. Now do it in defense of your proposal.

          • Mark Shea

            I’m laying out a general idea, not a grant proposal. Those who want answers to the question you ask should, if they are serious, go to people with proper competencies in engineering to get those answers. Those who don’t really want answers but merely want to say “It can’t be done” should keep pressing me for answers to questions like that, knowing that I’m no an engineer and have done no budget and materials analysis and am not competent to do one. It’s not questions. It’s the spirit motivating the questions. This is a search for excuses to say, “Won’t work”, not a quest to find out how to do it as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

  • The problem I see with the entire debate is that it is about five parts emotional response, one part thinking things through. After 10 years of listening to people say that something like 9/11 should not have changed anything about the way we protect ourselves in relation to our freedoms, something as horrible as Newtown has enabled many of the same people to say it should change everything about the way we protect ourselves in relation to our freedoms. I think that, alone, says something about our national mentality. For the record, I see no reason not to look at ways to oversee gun purchases or have regulations regarding gun ownership. It’s just a change in response I noticed.

    • Kirt Higdon

      Count me as one who thinks our technological, legal, political, and military fixes for 9/11 have made things worse than they were before and that we would have been better off doing nothing other than pursuing the criminals through existing law and law enforcement. To speak only of the technological fixes, since this seems to be what Mark thinks will solve the problem of gun crime, the 9/11 fixes include world wide drone bombing and radiating tens of millions of innocent air travellers. I understand, BTW, that the x-ray machines, already banned in many European countries, are to be phased out in the US. Seems they really are as dangerous as claimed. The “just do something” mentality was the wrong response to 9/11 and is the wrong response to gun crime, which incidentally has gone down dramatically over the last 20 years or so.

      • Mark Shea

        Can’t do. Won’t work. Give up. Attempt nothing. More Sandy Hooks–forever–are acceptable rather than *any* change in the status quo.

  • HokiePundit

    To paraphrase others, “I want my iPhone to be as reliable as my Glock, not the other way around.”

    Anything subject to an EMP or jamming is unreasonable. Anything that delays someone in the right from using the gun in self-defense is unreasonable. Anything beyond the free market, such as taxes or unsubsidized additional technology, that makes a gun unaffordable is unreasonable.

    If we can come up with a technology that reliably (99.9%, for instance, isn’t enough) only allows authorized users to use a gun, that is not vulnerable to outside interference or wireless tracing, that works essentially instantly, and that is subsidized in a way that the purchaser’s identity isn’t recorded, then maybe. Until then, it’s an argument over whether a Star Destroyer could defeat the Enterprise.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “Anything beyond the free market, such as taxes or unsubsidized additional technology, that makes a gun unaffordable is unreasonable.”

      Well, no. For a Catholic, it’s not unreasonable for the public authority have a say in this, since Church teaching is quite clear that the state has a duty to secure the common good (there’s a good bit on this in the Catechism). One can contend that as a matter of prudence state involvement in the matter may not be the best solution, but it is not unreasonable for state involvement to be considered.

    • “Anything beyond the free market . . . is unreasonable.”
      Thus speaks the voice not of politics, but of pure ideology.

      • Kenneth

        The “it would cost too much” argument also flies in the face of many gun owners behavior in this area. Guys are cleaning the shelves of every AR-type weapon they can find, paying $2,000 or whatever price is asked. Some of these guys would rather forgo their heart medication or auction their daughter’s virginity off before going without their arsenal. They’ll come up with the scratch. And the free market would come up with some very reliable and reasonably priced solutions.

      • Mark Shea

        The Church rejects laissez faire capitalism. But it’s alive and well in the comboxes of St. Blogs. I’m still laughing over the Ayn Rand is Aristotle and Paul Ryan is Aquinas idiocy of last fall. People actually believe that stuff.

        • ivan_the_mad

          And for the edification of all on that point, here’s … the CotCC:

          2425 The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.” Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.

          The footnotes reference

    • Mark Shea

      Can’t Do! Give up! Won’t work! Don’t try! Don’t even attempt to *imagine* ways these objections might be overcome and bugs ironed out.

    • Kenneth

      If you’re having EMP troubles, you need to get on the local boy scout rocket club and tell those guys to knock off the 400 kilometer nuclear bursts!

    • Jmac

      [pedantic] Your gun isn’t subject to jamming? [/pedantic]
      Seriously though, I think this comment reflects the “pundit” part of your name pretty well. Free-market capitalism isn’t an incontrovertible requirement for doing business in this country. Ask your ISP if you don’t believe me.

      • Mark Shea

        Yeah. 99.9% functionality isn’t good enough. Can’t Do! Give up! Won’t work! Don’t try! Don’t even attempt to *imagine* ways these objections might be overcome and bugs ironed out. When it comes to threatening the status quo of our absolutely perfect current regime of Sandy Hooks, Virginia Techs, Columbines, and Auroras (plus the gazillions of other gun crimes each year) only a proposal that is guaranteed to have have absolute flawless perfection will do.

  • IB Bill

    Secession talk is rash and stupid. Remember, I live in a very red area but work in a very very blue area. The red folks aren’t talking too much of secession. However, the blue folks seem to be thinking less of secession than expulsion — they want the red states to leave. So it is possible that one day, you could see a state say, “We’re going,” and others say, “Don’t let the door hitya …”

    And also by the way, at one recent party, all attendants, red and blue, agreed that our state should give it a shot as an independent country. Unfortunately, we’re the essential state in the union, so without us, no U.S. Sucks. So we’ll have to put up with the rest of you, for your sake, of course.

    • “joe”

      “we’re the essential state in the union, so without us, no U.S.”
      you must be from new york, then
      : D

      • Or California, which constantly boasts of how its state economy compares to various nations around the world. (Though the California economy is a whole ‘nother thread…)

        • “joe”

          many states do that, and if they didn’t the numbers would still be valid.

    • Jmac

      When WA forms a technocratic socialist state and starts monopolizing coffee and software exports, we’ll see who’s really essential.

  • Scott W.

    This seems easily settled because there is a section of the Catechism (look in the index under “armed resistance”) that lays out the criteria for justifiable uprisings (or secession in this case). Make your case that the situation in the US meets those criteria. I don’t think you can, but have at it.

    • Scott, your invitation seems ill-advised. Considering that Mark has said he’ll ban any and all secession advocates from the blog, I don’t think they should “have at it.”

  • Ed the Roman

    One of the great attractions of requiring biometric gun locks is that for quite a long time they will cost at least as much as most guns.

    Most of the people who really, really want this technology badly want it as a substitute for the ban with confiscation that they cannot have.

    • Oregon Catholic

      Your point? Most people need a car but it’s more than just the cost of the car. It’s gas, oil, tires, maintenance, registration, insurance. You buy what you can afford to own.

  • c matt

    Armed secession? Not likely. Eventual economic collapse and new regional governments rising from the rubble? Far more likely (in fact, highly probable, but not within our children’s lifetime, maybe our grandchildren’s). But that is a long, slow process. Just ask Europe.

  • c matt

    I guess that’s not really “secession,” that’s more just falling apart.

  • Patrick Thornton

    A few scattered thoughts:

    Can we at some point debate the 2nd amendment? I believe it’s there for a reason.

    If not that, can we debate the concept of registries? I asked in a previous comment how people would feel if the Feds decided to maintain a mandatory registry of religious affiliation. Both rights are written in to our constitution.

    What of a father’s obligation to live out his vocation which includes defending his family? If all my guns (if I have any) have bio-metric locks how can I train my children to use them properly and safely?

    There are questions here beyond secession or tech solutions. The big one being: do we really want to hand over such control to a federal government.

    I seem to remember some Catholics being really opposed to the Patriot Act and the government having that kind of control. But now people are A-OK handing the government similar power when it comes to guns?

    • Jmac

      The Patriot Act, and related pieces of legislation such as NDAA 2012 treated all Americans as potential criminals, and brought unprecedented violations of privacy and due process commensurate with such assumptions.

      Registries seem to me to be no different from other licensing and regulatory schemes for other things people are pretty okay with, such as driving, commercial food handling, or other licensing for occupations such as Professional Engineer certification or other technical certification programs. I really don’t get the similarities here.

      And since I don’t believe the constitution got everything remotely right in the first place, I’m open to any discussion on gun control, considering how technology has evolved from the late 18th century.

      • Several SCOTUS rulings have made it clear that anything which is, or acts as, a firearms registry is to be regarded as unconstitutional. Not that there is no way we could ever have such a thing, but we have to change the constitution first.

        • Jmac

          Huh, didn’t know that. Could you point me toward a few of the relevant cases?

  • You know Mark, not everyone who has prudential objections to your proposals is a heretic.

    • Sure. That’s a fair point.
      Maybe Mark’s specific proposal is less than ideal. But what about people who object to *any and all* regulation of firearms, because they place a tradition of men (their reading of the Second Amendment) over the teachings of the Church? Without getting into the fruitless question of whether they’re specifically heretics, isn’t it fair to say that they are not being properly deferential to the Magisterium?
      The Church instructs us in Catechism 2316 that “The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. The short-term pursuit of private or collective interests cannot legitimate undertakings that promote violence and conflict among nations and compromise the international juridical order.”

      • The Deuce

        I doubt you will find anyone who disagrees with there being any regulation of any arms whatsoever, by government at any level, except perhaps for anarcho-libertarians, all ten of them. Note that the quoted section talks about arms in general, and not even guns specifically.

      • HokiePundit

        Well, when you take the current situation as your starting point and define things to be very narrow in scope it becomes easy to make a point seem unassailable.

        Would you care to argue why, morally or constitutionally speaking, automatic weapons, anti-tank rockets, and armed frigates should not be in private hands? At least two of those three have been in our nation’s past. How about suppressors (legal, and even mandated, in parts of Western Europe), short-barreled shotguns, and pistols with forward grips?

        There are all sorts of regulations that are unobjectionable. The problem is that people are, either dishonestly or ignorantly, discounting all existing regulations and saying that those who think we’ve already gone too far are ignoring the Church’s teachings. If we’re going to have a discussion, then we need to put all options on the table so we can make sure nothing was immorally restricted in the past. Merely limiting it in scope to whether or not to tighten existing laws is to try and apply the faith without knowing enough facts.

    • Mark Shea

      And that would be a devastating point if I had said this.

      • A few posts ago you say “an awful lot of gun rhetoric is marked by the smell of heresy.” Perhaps I err by inferring some relationship between that statement and the folks in the combox. If so, I apologize.

        • Mark Shea

          Yes. And I explained what I meant. The explanation did not claim that all those who make prudential judgments are heretics. But then you knew that.

  • Patrick Thornton

    Another point that was brought up earlier and not answered at all:

    Banning certain types of guns that are already common doesn’t work. Handguns were illegal for more than 20 years in Chicago and yet in 2009 94% of all gun homicides were committed with illegal handguns. Nearly, all gun crime is handgun crime, yet no one is calling for a ban on handguns. No one is talking about it at all. Perhaps because the SC has already ruled that such a ban is completely unconstitutional. So, we’re back to the problem of the 2nd amendment. Should we keep it or scrap it?

    • Kenneth

      I don’t think Marks proposal envisioned banning the “old style” guns at all. The idea would be a phase-in of the safer user-only tech over some good period of time. Once that market was functional and accessible, the old style ammo would no longer be for sale on the legal market. So sure, some gangbanger 50 years hence may well still have his old-style Glock to evade the law. But if his only option for ammo is black market stuff at $100 a round, he isn’t going to be doing too many drive-bys with it.

      • Mark Shea

        Yup. And for those in the Can’t Do brigade who have been complaining that changing the caliber of the bullets won’t work, I’m not wedded to that (though I think a calibre change would be enough of a nuisance and expense that an awful lot of people would just get rid of their old guns in favor of the new model). The goal is simply to make the bullet tech something that only works in the new guns. There are other possible fixes if we clever monkeys put our minds to it. It would probably make the new bullets a bit more expensive, but boo hoo.

    • Mark Shea

      Since I specifically said I’m not interested in banning guns, your point is pointless.

      • Patrick Thornton

        I wasn’t claiming you did. But the point has been raised by many within the discussion (i.e., assault weapons ban) which has been fairly wide-ranging on your blog and others, so the point isn’t pointless. It’s relevant to general discussions on gun control.

        Where do you stand on registries? Isn’t there a danger of putting too much power in federal hands?

        • Mark Shea

          There’s always a risk when you give power to the state. But I think the tradeoff is basically worth it since, despite paranoid fears, there is no proposal to round up all our guns. There is, however, the reality of a huge amount of gun violence right now. If a registry will help keep guns out of the wrong hands, I have no objection any more than I have an objection to registering cars. The Catechism says the state has an obligation to preserve the common good and that regulation of arms is a legitimate part of that task. The second amendment, in contrast, is a prudential judgment and a human tradition, not sacred scripture.

          • Patrick Thornton

            Ok. Well, I suppose I just don’t trust the federal government that much. I don’t care for them knowing what kind of guns I own or don’t own, nor what religion I practice. It’s just not their business at all. I suppose that could be called a paranoid fear, but I just don’t have a huge amount of faith in a government that allows millions of children to be murdered, enemies to be tortured and wars waged across the world. There could be a day in this country where Catholics are in danger and need to defend themselves.

            • ivan_the_mad

              Why yes, the duty of the citizen is heavy. We must work to remedy the abuses of the state and ensure that the state, in its proper role, secures the common good. Nothing’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean we throw up our hands.

            • Oregon Catholic

              Do you donate to your parish Church? Do you write off your charitable contribution on your taxes? If so, the fed knows your religion.

              Does that make you paranoid now – enough to stop declaring your contributions?

        • Andy

          Registries scare me less than relying on luck in finding folks who should not have guns – if a registry invades my privacy a bit to prevent other issues – then I am for it. I do not have the fear of the government that seems to pervade the fears of so many people. Maybe I am naive or maybe I trust in God or perhaps I recognize that I am part of the government and thus part of the problem and part of the solution.
          As far as technology to control gun use – biometrics and the like – we already have many of the tech devices mentioned, pricey as hell, I agree, but available. It is time for us to use our technology for reasons other than war and anger.

  • MikeTheGeek

    Who wants to rely on a gun that needs a battery? Feasible? Sure – not even technically all that difficult. Good idea? No, thanks, I’ll pass.

    And why can’t the Feds just mind their own business and quit trying to interfere in local affairs? My state has a governor and a legislature, and we have the gun laws that we decided we want. Everyone else can just expletive off.

    • Guns are like atmospheric pollution: they cause harm when transported across state lines. Because they move in interstate commerce, they are an appropriate subject of federal regulation.

      • Exactly. Most of the guns used in crimes in NYC come from other states, because New York’s laws are so tough.

        • MikeTheGeek

          Perhaps New York and Illinois should be the ones who secede and leave the rest of the country, which seems far less dysfunctional, to carry on w/o their whining.

    • Mark Shea

      Can’t Do! Give up! Won’t work! Don’t try! Don’t even attempt to *imagine* ways these objections might be overcome and bugs ironed out. Everything is perfect! Just accept more Sandy Hooks as the cost of not inconveniencing gun owners in the slightest.

      • Your presumption that your proposals are at best a flea-bite of inconvenience is unwarranted. Your blanket dismissal of such objections as unthinking defeatism is not helping. You overcome peoples’ objections to the doctrines and dogmas of our Church for a living, but you do not even attempt to civilly address the objections of people who actually use guns to your proposal, which is NOT church doctrine. Are you sure you’re not making your proposal into an all-encompassing Theory of Criminology and/or a litmus test as to whether you’ll talk to others?

        • Mark Shea

          I make no such presumption. But thanks for yet another counsel of despair from the Can’t Do Spirit. Impossible. Give up. Won’t work. Don’t try. Message received.

          And no, I’m pretty sure saying, “This seems like a reasonable thing to attempt and could help” doesn’t seem to *me* to be an all encompassing theory.

      • MikeTheGeek

        Did you even read my comment? I didn’t say it was impossible; I said I don’t want what you’re peddling. I want my gun to go bang when the trigger is pulled, without worrying about having a ring on, or whether my fingerprints are in the right spot, or the microchip is properly implanted in my forehead or hand, or whether I trigger the voice recognition software, or whatever, All those are technically feasible things to do. I don’t want them; my friends don’t want them; no one I know wants them. Go live in a gun-free commune and leave the rest of us, who learned in kindergarten that it’s not proper behavior to go around shooting people w/o a good reason, to live our lives as we have for decades w/o forcing your “improvements” down our throats.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    My only objection is this discussion’s use of the word “fairy tale,” which implies falsehood. Fairy tales actually contain a lot of truth and nearly always great morality. The opinions Mr. Shea is rightly deriding are therefore not fairy tales. They don’t have 1/10th enough truth or morality or sense to qualify as even a bad fairy tale.

  • The Deuce

    I think biometric locks are a great idea… if somebody can get them working reliably and somebody wants to buy them. I’d have a problem with making them mandatory. I can think of plenty of situations where they might present a problem when the gun is needed for self-defense, but others where they could be useful. And for a long time, they will be extremely expensive too.

    I think it’s important for people to understand though, that it’s impossible to make a biometric lock that can’t be disabled. Guns are very simple mechanical instruments. You can place a mechanical lock on some part of the gun, but it can be removed. It’s not like a computer chip, where the encryption can be integrated into it, so that the chip can be genuinely rendered inoperable for those who don’t have the key. It could stop someone else from using your gun in the immediate moment if they were short on time, but if they stole it and had a couple days, they would be able to take the lock off.

    • Mark Shea

      So create guns that *do* require the lock to be intact in order to work at all. Such an engineering problem is hardly beyond our capabilities.

      • The Deuce

        My point is that by nature, guns aren’t digital devices. They use ignition of explosive material upon impact to propel a small object through a tube. There’s just no part of that that can be made to intrinsically require a digital signature to function. You can put on some sort of lock that would obstruct the trigger or other part of the mechanism responsible for igniting the gunpowder, and you could make it difficult to remove that lock without welding tools, but you can’t fundamentally change the laws of physics and turn gunpowder and metal tubes into “digital” gunpowder and metal tubes or anything like that.

        • Jmac

          Cars weren’t digital devices at first either. Nor were many things that are currently electrified and digitally pimped out. Although there’s an analog/digital conversion somewhere in the pipeline, that’s not remotely a problem for modern engineering. As someone suggested in an earlier thread, simple RFID tagging could be a good solution.

          • The Deuce

            Cars still aren’t digital devices. They’re mechanical devices, by the very nature of what they do, that increasingly have digital devices tacked on. That’s why, if somebody gets hold of a stolen car (which, of course, is hard because cars are generally too big to be stolen without starting them up first), even if it has a one of those digital ignitions, they can still open it up and hotwire it. All you have to do is physically create a connection from a battery to the car’s ignition, and you’re off. You can make it hard to do without a bit of work, but you can’t change the laws of physics.

            • Jmac

              Excuse me, I was unclear. My point was very similar to the point Mark makes below, actually. I don’t need to change the laws of physics if I can change the way they fundamentally behave. And still, nobody is talking about preventing all crimes and thefts, merely in reducing the frequency.

              • The Deuce

                Okay, but you purported to give examples of where the way some piece of mechanical technology behaves was fundamentally changed. I’m just pointing out that you didn’t, and I very much doubt that you could, because I don’t think that’s actually happened. To be honest, nearly all of what seem to be wizbang new technologies are actually just refinements and combinations of stuff we invented over 60 years ago.

        • Mark Shea

          By nature, guns are not *now* digital devices. But if you build a gun in which, say, the ignition of explosive material in the round *cannot* be initiated without, say, the right digital signal to the specially engineered bullet, then it is no longer a mere mechanical device. These are all engineering problems that clever monkeys could figure out if we wanted to.

        • Oregon Catholic

          You simply incorporate the biometric scanner into the trigger. Wrong finger, the trigger doesn’t move.

          • Anson

            How do you mechanically prevent the trigger from moving? Electronic solenoid? Tiny hydraulic pistons? Flesh this out a little more for me. What is the power source? Where on the firearm is it housed?

            • Oregon Catholic

              If I was a designer with those answers I’d be too busy in my workshop to comment on this blog.

              • Anson

                Legislator: All cars manufactured after December 31, 2015 will be required to meet a milage standard of 150 miles/gallon.
                Engineer: Wow that’s going to be challenging to meet.
                Legislator: See! You’re just another example of American “Can’t Do” Attitude! If we had had engineers like you on the Apollo program we’d have never made it to the moon.
                Engineer: Okay. I’m sorry. We’ll see what we can do. How much can we lessen the anticipated payload so that we can extend engine efficiency.
                Legislator: Nothing! Or…I don’t know maybe something. I don’t exactly have solid figures. I’m not an engineer. I studied English literature in college. All I know for sure is, we have to do this for the children. The price of not doing it is just too high.
                Engineer: Okay. Maybe I can get the figures to work if the car only transports one person who weighs no more than 120 lbs.
                Legislator: No! This has to transport at least a 4 person family.
                Engineer: Well, that’s going to be tough…
                Legislator: And their luggage…
                Engineer: Look. I’m not trying to be difficult here. I just don’t see how we get there with the parameters you’ve laid out.
                Legislator: See! This is more of that American defeatist mentality…If it’s about money, we can mandate that this will be the only transportation available to people. They’ll have to pay.
                Engineer: No it’s not the money. It’s the laws of thermodynamics. See the potential energy available in the high energy bonds of the gasoline that you have specified would not be enough to do the work required to move that amount of mass that particular distance. It’s math.
                Legislator: See, this is more of that defeatist attitude. Why can’t you be productive and help us overcome the challenges rather than just say it can’t be done?
                Engineer: Overcome the laws of physics?
                Legislator: …I don’t know entirely what you mean when you say “laws of physics”, I’m an English literature major. I’m more of a visionary. I just want you to find a way to implement my vision without questioning my basic assumptions.
                Engineer: …

                • Mark Shea

                  So then, you’re an engineer who has studied my idea, right? Or are you just some guy who has decided it’s impossible and nobody should even *look* and try to invent something like this?

                  • Anson

                    On the contrary I think you should look into this. I think you should talk to some mechanical engineers and get their take. I am also a person who is apalled by the fact that firearms manufacturers have largely begun to abandon wood and steel firearms for the composite plastics of AR rifles. Just watch what’s been coming out of SHOT show over the past couple of years. I want gun makers to have an incentive to make old fashioned lever, bolt action, and single shot rifles used for hunting rather than plastic rifles built for war. I have been heartened by the recent return of some manufacturers to building products for the Cowboy Action Shooting contingent. I like to see gun manufacturers pumping out slow to reload, manually operated arms that have nice polished wood and gleaming barrels. And I’m a person who thinks your techy solution would end up causing manufacturers to build more military style semiautos instead of low capacity slow to reload guns of wood and steel. Nobody is going to buy an 1894 Winchester with an incongruous looking reticle scanner. If I’ve gotta have a high tech looking piece of crap reticle scanner or fingerprint reader I may as well have it on an AR where it won’t look so out of place next to the holographic sight and laser. I think your idea would result in more military style weapons flooding the market when I would hope for less. I think your idea would ultimately exacerbate the problem of gun violence by giving teenagers with a laptop a reason to try to hack the biometric lock on dad’s AR. Although I’m sure the hackers at Anonymous wouldn’t complain about a situation where their technical skills can result in their being armed in largely unarmed populace.

                    I think your idea is well intentioned, but I also know that you know next to nothing about guns. This was pretty obvious when you floated the idea of just making future firearms fire a different caliber. I don’t really know that much about guns, but I know that the cartridges we have have all resulted from 150 years of gradual tinkering and optimizing. A knew variation would be tried and if the ballistics were superior for its purpose, then it would end up in the manufacturing realm if not it would stay a wildcat. I know that the .218 Bee, .17 hmr, and .204 ruger are all good coyote rounds, but the .17 hmr is easily deflected by even a blade of grass and the .218 bee just never made it into the next tier of rifles as a ballistics performer. I know that Elmer Keith spent years carefully loading and testing his magnum handgun rounds. Over the course of 150 years tons of iterations have been tried until we have a collection of cartridges that generally works for their intended purpose. To just wave a hand and say, “We’ll just make sure the new guns fire a different caliber”, betrays a fundamental ignorance about modern firearms. I genuinely think your proposed solution would end up exacerbating the problem rather than alleviating it

                    • Mark Shea

                      Sigh. I have never claimed to know anything about the engineering details. For weeks after Sandy Hook the Can’t Do crowd demanded to know what I would suggest and complained that I wasn’t offering anything constructive but simply being mean to the gun crowd as they offered dumb arguments, non sequiturs, screamed HITLER!!!! and fantasized about secession. It was easy for me to say that when I made no suggestions about what might be changed. When was I going to suggest an alternative to all the crappy gun culture rhetoric, they demanded. Anyone can criticize, they criticized. Suggest an alternative. So I suggested.

                      The idea, if the tech can be made to work reliably, seems to me to be very reasonable: guns that only fire for the people for whom they should fire. How we get there is an engineering problem primarily and is therefore best addressed by those with that competency. My suggestion for different caliber bullets is based on the model of change and upgrade in the computer world: the software changes and the hardware adapts to fit it, or vice versa. Guns likewise take two to tango: gun and bullet. Make the bullet only work in the new gun, mandate the sale and manufacture of *only* the new bullets and you’ve outmoded the old guns–except for a minority of enthusiasts who like to make their own bullets. Over time, it becomes an expensive hassle to keep your old gun in bullets and you get the upgrade. Nobody is deprived of their rights. Nothing is confiscated. Just a tech upgrade.

                      How that would be done is a matter for engineers to figure out (and that includes figuring out *whether* it could be done). I have a hard time believing it would really be all that hard for a determined inventor, but that’s just me and I could be wrong. Thing is, I also have a really hard time believing that the Can’t Do crowd in this combox have any particular expertise when they declare the idea DOA. They have no more idea than I do how feasible it really is, as near as I can tell. It’s just that I look at the idea and think “That would be worth exploring. It may not work, but it’s worth considering” while the Can’t Do Brigade says, “How dare you have an idea? That will never work. Some lit major thinking he’s a gun expert! Well *I* happen to say it will never work, because I am some anonymous person who is not, you know, an engineer familiar with the relevant disciplines, but still say it won’t work!”

                      Great. I stand rebuked for having an idea.

                    • Anson

                      Seems like I said you *should* look into it. Yes, my cursory look at your proposal and admittedly limited knowledge of firearms suggests to me that this is probably not very feasible. But right now in your combox questions that ask even basic questions about how one would incorporate the technology (such as where are you going to put the power source?) Are simply dismissed as defeatism.

                      But even if it is possible I think it is a bad idea that will end up making the kind of military rifles that have been used in these mass shooting more prevalent rather than less. Can’t I think it’s a bad idea in good faith?

                    • Kenneth

                      I don’t have a deep background in materials science, and mechanical engineering isn’t my thing, but I do know something of firearms design and history and I also have some understanding of the innovation capability of industry and our research base.

                      Mark’s ideas are not ready to patent or pitch to venture capitalists or write into law. But they’re not bad starting points, and they’re not absurdly unrealistic as conceptual solutions. The exact technology that evolves from his concept is not as important as the fact that he is applying a fresh line of thinking to the problem in a debate that has been a 30-year fight over the non-solutions offered by two entrenched lobbies.

                      This is not an irreducibly complex problem. We have, right now, guns that can kill enemies hiding behind hard cover like rock (look up “XM-25”). We have a gun that can shoot around corners, accurately. We have some very robust and reliable biometric technology in play now, and a whole lot of research dollars and talent dedicated to improvement.

                      We have enormous capability to miniaturize our technology to make it unobtrusive. I am personally training on a system right now that can write a serial number, your name, and any whacked-out Old Testament verse you might want on the base of a bullet, with plenty of room to spare. There is no reason at all someone could not retrofit or manufacture, say, a historically accurate Henry rifle with biometrics.

                      The caliber change concept also is not an intractable problem. Today’s calibers are based as much on quirks of history and happenstance as on physics. Moreover, there is no need to change calibers radically. Bullet diameters could remain the same. Fairly minor changes in case length or neck taper are sufficient to render any round incompatible with guns not designed for it. That is especially true of rifles.

                      If you really want to trash backward compatibility, design a brand new extraction system. The rims and grooves we use now are up to a century and a half old, and they work well, but they were not handed down by God on the mountain. New ignition systems could be invented. We could revisit caseless cartridges. I don’t know the ultimate solutions any more than Mark does, but it is a problem well within our capability as a species to crack.

                      As a final note, look up “Biomac Foundation.” I can’t attest to the viability of their concepts, but clearly some people with deep biometric technology are thinking about the problem and at least conceptually addressing the criticisms raised by other posters.

                    • Mark Shea

                      And, of course, the new caliber idea was just a quick and dirty way of saying, “change the bullets so they don’t work in the old guns and only work in the new ones”. If caliber change doesn’t float your boat, there are other tweaks to try. That, again, is a matter for engineers.

          • Until a gunsmith makes or installs a replacement trigger without the scanner. If guns had electronic ignition, that required the sort of precision timing that a four-stroke internal combustion engine requires, electronic interrupts could be really long-term.

  • Jessica

    I happened to like Mark’s ideas. Mainly because they’re creative and more reasonable than anything else I’ve heard suggested. He’s trying to balance the interest of both sides, but mainly he’s trying to be faithful to the Catholic Church, which is our primary obligation. (Also because I myself thought of something similar last week.) I wonder how we would handle people in classroom settings who don’t yet own a gun, or guns that have fake bullets that are used for practice. I also wondered if you could “program” the finger/palm scanner to accept more than one print, so you could go to the range and shoot your buddy’s gun.

  • KM

    Here’s a wonderful example of the “can-do” spirit that Mark refers to. A creative individual came up with a security and safety solution for self-defense, using his iPhone to become a “stun gun.” The inventor, a former military police officer who owns firearms, came up with a stun gun that looks like an iPhone and can be easily accessed when needed, and has safety features.


    “[Seth] Froom actually had a stun gun and firearms in his house on the night he was attacked. However, all he had within reach when the armed robber entered his home was his cellphone. The stun gun he owned was designed – for the means of easy concealment – to look like a cellphone. After his ordeal, he looked from the stun gun to the phone case and an idea was born. Froom took his creation to crowd funding site Indiegogo and has now raised more than $85K of US$100,000 goal and plans to go into production.”

    “The Yellow Jacket features its own built-in battery which provides the juice necessary to fend off any would-be attacker. The battery also acts as a backup for the iPhone, granting up to 20-hours of additional standby time. Safety was a major concern for founders Seth Froom and Sean Simone. With this in mind, they implemented two layers of protection to prevent users from accidentally shocking themselves while trying to make a phone call; a safety switch that must be engaged before the device is capable of stunning and an electrode cap designed to prevent accidental physical contact.”

    • KM

      One clarification: The Yellow Jacket is a case that holds the iPhone. The case itself becomes the “stun gun.”

      For any inventors out there, Indiegogo and Kickstarter are two of the best-known crowdfunding sites.

      • Stun guns are illegal in several states, which define them as torture devices, and I for one can’t say that they are entirely irrational for doing so.

  • Tim Jones

    Guns are a special favorite item for thieves, who will, I hear, go out of their way to steal them. If I spent some of my hard-earned folding money on a weapon, you can bet I’d want a gizmo on it so that only I could use it. Because I’m a selfish bastage that way.

    • Jessica

      I like this guy!

  • KM

    Here is a feel-good story related to weapons: A Mexican artist has turned swords into plowshares by turning decommissioned weapons into musical instruments.

    “Earlier this year, Pedro Reyes recycled 6,700 confiscated guns into musical instruments for a project called Imagine. Revolvers, shotguns and machine guns previously used to kill became 50 wind, percussion and string instruments. They are currently on display at the Istanbul Design Biennal as part of Adhocracy exhibit.”


    Here’s a statistic from the article:

    “There have been 80,000 deaths by gunshot in Mexico in the last six years, a type of violence that affects other Latin American countries as well. ”

    That’s about 13,000 gunshot deaths per year in Mexico. That’s about the same rate we have in the U.S.

    • Jmac

      Thanks for the articles, KM. Interesting stuff.

  • A fair question is whether such a fix would be without glitches. These are, after all, guns. Since there are entire industries that exist to counter the myriad glitches and flaws in modern techno-digital inventions, I’m a little leery about a potential glitch in all this proposed new technology. Glitches in my smartphone? Inconvenience. Frustration. Glitches in digital gun technology? That’s a whole different ballgame.

    • Mark Shea

      Of *course* there would be glitches. And we’d fix them as we fix glitches in all our other tech. More of the Can’t Do Spirit on full display.

      • Who’s going to be the poor schmuck that finds out the hard way there were glitches?
        Glitches in the cell phone, again an inconvenience. But who knows what kind of glitches such changes could make, and what harm would result? My only dog in this fight is that the changes not hurt or harm good people, especially if it does nothing to deter the bad ones. Ending up with deaths and suffering for those who would do no wrong while seeing no real impact on murders or gun violence would, to me, be the unacceptable.

        • Mark Shea

          If we took your Can’t Do approach to all other technological advancments that you are taking to guns, we still be living in caves. Eek! There’s a chance that there might not be 100% functionality instantaneously! Give up. Don’t try! Won’t work!

          • Stacy

            New tech has “early adopters” that are willing to put up with the glitches and others who wait and upgrade after things have smoothed out a little. As long as the option to belong to either group remains, I’m happy to see all the developments in smartgun technology that folks want to roll out. My fear is that, given the violence-reducing goal of the smartgun tech, legislative mandates will run ahead of the technological curve and people will be expected to “upgrade” to guns that do *less* than what already exists.

            • Mark Shea

              That is a potential problem we would have to address. But, of course, not a reason not to attempt inventing such tech.

          • I’m sure there could be some solution, tech or otherwise. But at what price? Acknowledging tech solutions don’t always work is not bemoaning the invention of the wheel. Especially today. It’s being honest and seeking clarity. Who would be impacted? Who could be hurt? Would it actually deter crime? Would such measures create problems only for those who wouldn’t do such things anyway? Would it force those who wish to plan for mass killings to seek other, more deadly means? What are the short term and long term ramifications of such technological solutions? Let’s see some data. How about some technical specifics. You can’t just say here’s some ideas, I don’t know much about them, but clearly anyone who questions them wants to live in caves because they don’t see the unparalleled majesty of 21st century America’s aptitude for problem solving. To say such things, you must supply evidence that you’ve done your research and have made an informed decision that this is the right way to go. Or, you’re open to discussion pro/con.

            Do I want to see more Newtowns? Of course not. But I don’t want a bunch of measures meant to give us the idea we did something, that eventually cause more problems for all the wrong people, while not stopping the carnage, or even possibly, making it worse.

            • Mark Shea

              Don’t try. Can’t do. Won’t be worth the cost. Yeah, Newtown was bad, but this will probably just be worse. Give up.

              It’s not that there are not pratical questions to address, including cost. It’s the urgent will to say “It probably can’t be done. Don’t try.” And that includes the rush to say, “Because a suggestion on a blog has not done a cost-benefit analysis and the guy suggesting it is not an engineer capable of detailing how the tech would work, it’s all just utopian dreaming, it won’t work, it will cost to much and so we should just give up now.” The Can’t Do Spirit.

              • No, it’s the urgent tendency to be cautious after listening to folks, like you, bemoan the rush to ‘solutions’ that led us into so many problems over the last 10 years. After all, many said nothing could be worse than another 9/11, and you’ve been quick to point out how wrong they were. As bad as Newtown was, to imagine that no idea or solution could result in something worse seems to be taking everything you’ve said for the last 6 or 7 years and saying those lessons only apply to 9/11 and America’s reaction to *that*. They would never, ever apply to anything else. I doubt you think that.

                Oh, and I didn’t say you had to have a doctoral thesis to be worthy of a blog post. I did say you should do your homework if your responses are going to be canned digs and insults to anyone who questions your suggestions. Either have the data and specifics, or allow for free and open brainstorming. It can’t be one set of rules for the ‘I agree Mark, way to go!’ crowd, and another for those who are asking questions you’ve spent 6 or 7 years insisting should always be asked.

                • Mark Shea

                  Yeah. A reasonable suggestion that doesn’t pretend to be a cure all and would take years to implement is a huge rush. And besides, it can’t be done, won’t work, will probably cost too much and is too risky. It was foolish to even suggest it.

                  • Patrick Thornton


                    You should re-read your own comments.

                    People are on here trying to write thoughtful, well-reasoned and mostly unemotional arguments and your response is well, teenagerish. I realize that you’ve probably read more blathering, stupid comments about all sorts of subjects and that might make you a bit jaded. Dave G. is trying to make a point and maybe he hasn’t read all of your thoughts on gun control. It seems he deserves a better response than what you offered.

                    We’re all looking for ways to reduce violence and trying to pigeonhole any of us who disagree with you as “Don’t try, Can’t Do” seems counterproductive to a real discussion.

                    Maybe you’re tired of talking about it all. I don’t know.

                    I do wonder how you can be so suspect of the federal government when it comes to prisoner interrogation/torture, foreign wars and freedom of religion, but seem to be so trusting of the same government when the topic is guns.


                    • Mark Shea

                      See, that’s the thing. We *not* all looking for that. A vocal portion of my readers are looking for almost any way possible to say “You are an idiot and your proposal is a fairy tale”. Some are more direct than others. But the Can’t Do Spirit suffuses a lot posts. It’s the difference between writing, “Here’s a problem, though it might be fixable if we did X” and “Here’s a problem. I notice you don’t even address it. It’s impossible to overcome. This is going to probably cost a fortune. And it will probably make everything worse. Give up.”

                  • What Patrick said Mark.

                    You say these things would take ‘years to implement’. Years to implement? I thought we were trying to prevent future mass shootings. How many more will we tolerate while we work on ideas that will take years to implement? If that’s the case, perhaps we focus on more immediate solutions. Who knows, in years assault guns may be obsolete for those wishing to cause mass casualties. Let’s take some time, and listen to different people. If it will take years to implement, then we have plenty of time to think of all the possibilities, all the benefits, and all the potential dangers and drawbacks. But in the meantime, we can turn our attention to more immediate issues, looking at different factors than simply assault weapons here or guns there. Look at the shootings themselves. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What may those things tell us? Are there security measures or similar ideas we could implement? Listen to those arguing against the proposals. Listen to those arguing for of course, but also be honest about those calling for more restrictions.

                    All I’m saying is this conversation deserves more than the old Internet ‘our way or the stupid way’ approach to dialogue. Who knows what idea may drift out of a conversation. Right now, I’m open to a variety of possibilities. But I am not partial to the idea that since Newtown was so horrible, anything we do must be preferred to nothing at all. Call that post-9/11 thinking on my part.

                    • Mark Shea

                      Won’t work. Give up. Don’t try. Can’t do.

                      Message received, Dave. Coming through loud and clear. Do nothing. Attempt nothing. The status quo is *perfect*.

                    • By the way Mark, the flip side of “You are an idiot and your proposal is a fairy tale” to ideas is “Won’t work. Give up. Don’t try. Can’t do” to any questions about those ideas.

                    • Mark Shea

                      As I say, if you *really* want answers to those questions, then you need to consult an engineer. If you want to find an excuse for saying “Can’t do” keep pretending that because I am a non-engineer who suggested an idea without having the competence to do a feasibility study and cost/benefit/research/labor/materials, it is therefore a waste of time to even look into it.

                    • No Mark, I’m not saying you must have advanced degrees in engineering from MIT to throw out the idea that we could change the technology to solve the problem. What I’m saying is that you should be open to others who also don’t have engineering degrees from MIT who look at the solution and say ‘but wait a minute.’ Could there be a tech solution? Sure. But given the problems in tech and digital today, caution is also fair. These are guns after all, not ipads or smart phones. Before we go down that path, I think a column that says “Tech Solutions: Pro/Con” is far better than one that says “Tech Solutions: Pro/I hate wheels.” You don’t need the facts and figures if you’re open to discussion. If you’re going to smack down anyone who doesn’t yell amen, then you probably need some facts and figures. After all, it’s been your mantra for years about rushing headlong into things. In the end, this is no different.

                    • Mark Shea

                      As I say, if you are interested in seeing if it’s feasible, you ask an engineer. If you are interested in simply urging the Can’t Do Spirit, you stay in this combox and press for giving all the excuses for why it won’t work, will cost too much, is doomed to fail, and etc. The reasonable response to this proposal is, “Hmm. I wonder if it would work? I will go ask an engineer.” The Can’t Do Spirit response to this proposal is start coming up with every reason you can think of why it’s hopeless to even explore it and then declare that, because I am not an engineer and have no competence to answer all the objections you raise, the whole thing is folly. It’s the eager *will* to dismiss the idea on the flimsiest excuse that is obvious in so many of these “You idiots and your fairy tales” replies from people who have no more expertise than I do in the relevant disciplines. Those of my readers who *do* appear to have some knowledge of the relevant disciplines seem to indicate there are possibilities here. So it’s pretty silly to whine about being “smacked down” when, in fact, it is you who are eagerly smacking down exploration of a reasonable idea as fast and as hard as you can. Go talk to an engineer about my idea if you *really* want answers to your questions and objections about feasibility. I’m just making a suggestion.

                    • I don’t think anyone is saying the technology couldn’t happen. Sure it could. But would it be better or worse? What would happen if there were glitches? What kind of glitches? Could innocent people be hurt by such glitches? Could this create problems that actually exacerbate the situation? None of these are ‘can’t do spirit’. That’s just name calling and nothing else. That’s nothing other than saying ‘unpatriotic spirit’ to those who asked ‘are you sure there are WMDs?”

                      I’ve read tech people bounce this about. Two things I’ve noticed: 1. Everyone agrees that tech changes could happen. And 2. nobody agrees on what that would mean, if it would be better or not, or what the results could be. Simply tossing out a few questions is simply tossing out a few questions. As I said, if my cell phone has a glitch, it’s a damn inconvenience. But some advanced digital/tech changes on a firearm? What would that do? Would it do anything? Those simply are prudent questions. Maybe they would do nothing at all. Maybe all the engineers in the world know exactly what would happen. Maybe it would be the best thing since the Polio vaccine. But I think it’s still worth asking before we plow forward and make changes. For so far, the jury is out on just what any of these measures will accomplish. And post-9/11, I’m prepared to ask a load of questions before plowing forward. Especially when these things would take years to accomplish anyhow.

                      FWIW, I’d rather spend the time focused on more immediate solutions, given the number of children who will be in our schools on Monday.

                    • Mark Shea

                      Actually, some people are saying exactly that, with vehemence, passion, and anger. But most are just pretending to “raise questions” while making no effort to get answers from the people competent to answer those questions and instead directing them at me and saying that, because I’m not competent to answer them I am “slapping down” something. I repeat: This is a suggestion. An idea. Something to explore. The people to explore it are competent engineers and people in related disciplines. Those who *really* want objections addressed should take them to the people who can answer their objections. Those who are looking for a way to slap it down can continue griping about how it can’t be done here. Your strange fear that an idea on a blog will lead to “plowing ahead” and somehow implementing a rash, disastrous program is… illustrative of my point.

                    • No, just as you point to people who are extreme on one side, I could easily point to the extreme on another. My question was: could such innovations have glitches that could prove disastrous to law abiding gun owners while accomplishing little to nothing in the long run? I’m not a gun owner, I don’t know. I’m not a tech expert, I don’t know. I was asking because the wave of ‘to prevent another Newtown we must do anything’ is taking on a life of its own. Not just on one blog. Just watching the reactions to a question is pretty telling in itself. All anyone could have said was ‘this is why we need not worry, here’s how it would work.’ In fact, some did. I asked more questions. Conversation. No pithy little slogans or canned responses needed. No suggestion I don’t care about dead children. Just tossing ideas and concerns about. I say the carnage of Newtown, Columbine, Aurora and other such horrors is worthy of open debate. That’s all. We can’t say we’re just brainstorming and then immediately move to sideswipe folks who are likewise brainstorming. That’s called saying ‘here’s the only acceptable solution, case closed.’ It can’t be both.

  • Jmac

    A smartphone is many, many orders of magnitude more complex than a firearm. There’s a delicate interplay of hardware and software which have to work fast at incredibly small scales, and implement all manner of communications protocols, audio/video codecs, and programming environments that can be accessed by myriads of people doing everything from creating flash games to controlling other devices over bluetooth, wi-fi, or other means. Nobody is advocating building a smartphone to control a gun. Create a small ASIC that is subjected to nearly the same testing rigor as a medical device, and such glitches will be few and far between.

    • What kind of medical device?

      • Jmac

        Most electronic medical devices are held to a very high standard of testing, ensuring that they will be provably error-free. This of course does not remove all possible hardware/software errors from the device, but they are considerably better than consumer tech in that regard, since their functionality will directly impact human lives.
        There are many standards in play, see the ASTM site for more details: http://www.astm.org/Standards/medical-device-and-implant-standards.html

        • I’m sure it doesn’t. But I also notice that most medical devices are expensive beyond imagining, compared to more mundane items. Would such a price tag then have to accompany guns fitted with similar technical upgrades?

          • Kenneth

            Most of the cost of medical devices has to do with the astronomical costs of FDA approval and insane over-design to head off liability. There is no equivalent of FDA testing for firearms, and the gun industry’s water boy, the NRA, already managed to secure for them a near-total immunity from product liability.

            • If your argument is that the NRA has all but hamstrung any burden for quality control through product liability, I’m afraid any faith in the infallibility of future tech alterations placed on firearms just dropped a rung on the trust ladder.

  • MattyD

    Mark, IMHO, you give the “Can’t Do Brigade” *far* to much credit. Are they *truly* passive and defeatist? Or might it be that they are rationalizers? Moral escapists. They want rights without responsibilities. Seems to me it’s more socially acceptable to say “It won’t work”, than to say, “I don’t care and I won’t help.”

    • Or, they could simply be wanting to make sure it’s not one more thing we look back at in the years to come and say ‘How the [bleep] were we supposed to know?’ There is always that.

      • Oregon Catholic

        Dave G, I like your reasoning. It’s the same reasoning I apply and the same question I ask myself when I think how we could have banned assault rifles oh so many years ago and prevented oh so many mass shootings.

        • You’re probably right. I’ll bet if we had banned assault rifles so many years ago, we would have prevented oh so many mass shootings. Mass killings? Probably not. But mass shootings, who knows? Without assault rifles, those who spent months planning mass shootings would probably have been forced to look for other means, humans bent on mass killing being a determined brood.

          • MattyD

            Interesting, David. You *concede* that an AR ban could “force” a killer to “look for other means”. Like, say, the crazed attacker in China who recently stabbed 22, all of whom survived because the killer only had a *knife*. And yet a ban on ARs is still not worth doing. Translation: I don’t care and I won’t help.

            • Dale Price

              Just an astute reader of souls, aren’t you, Matty?

              • Anson

                Well…yeah. Can you think of a more charitable explanation for Dave G’s dubiousness about the efficaciousness of an assault weapons ban in reducing mass casualties than, “Dave G just doesn’t care about murdered kindergarteners”?

                • Kenneth

                  The simplest explanation, and one that requires no insight in someone’s motives, is that the AR-15=knife argument is simply intellectually dishonest, whether done out of sincere belief or malice. It’s a smoke-and-mirrors trick to distract us from the real, and quantitative difference in killing power that high-capacity semi-automatic weapons hold versus other methods that could come into play in any realistic scenario.

                  The argument that someone COULD, conceivably, engineer a mass casualty attack by means of explosives, or by means of a garage-built machine gun, are deliberate attempts to derail the debate. The issue is about the fact that mopes and losers and psychotics are murdering lots of people at one time because they have virtually unhindered access to military grade hardware.

                  What we know about these people strongly suggests that the overwhelming majority were not smart or resourceful or focused enough to pull off serious bomb making or weapon smithing or nerve gas synthesis or any other typical non-firearm mass casualty technology. If memory serves, none of them were rogue special forces men or kendo masters or any other sort who would even begin to be able to kill 26 people with a blade.

                  In the end, it’s not even worth our time to guess at what’s in the heart of people making the argument Dave G has. Attack the argument for the totally meritless distraction that it is.

                  • Smoke and mirrors? How interesting. Was a time when that phrase was applied to those asking if we should make sure there really are WMDs. Times sure do change. I love the mad rush for solutions that will take years but must not be questioned because that’s not caring or wanting to do anything. Nothing says prudence and seeking reasonable solutions more than that.

                    By the way, two of the three most infamous attacks in recent years involved people who planned on explosions as well as mass shootings. One thankfully went nowhere. The other forced experts to spend hours disarming the explosives. To this date, the largest mass killing in America was the result of explosives, and that was before the glory years of the internet and endless resources at our finger tips. Ignore it as you will, but be accountable if it turns out we should have been more cautious.

                    • Kenneth

                      I think we’re already being very cautious on management of explosives-based terrorism. I don’t doubt that some number of maniacs, denied access to guns, would seek to use a bomb-based attack. I don’t think we ought to let our gun policies be driven by an assumption that would-be mass shooters would simply make up the body count through explosives on a one for one basis or even in any significant amount.

                      Building a device that will add some confusion to a situation or that will kill one or two first responders is child’s play. Pulling off a mass casualty explosion of the sort we see in the Middle East everyday or Oklahoma City is an entirely different deal. Realistically, for one man to be able to do that much damage with something he can carry by himself into a public place, he needs very compact, very high power military grade material, which is VERY well controlled in this country. The obvious low-tech workaround ala Oklahoma City, is also pretty well off the table. We learned not to sell tons of high ammonium fertilizer to some schmo off the street on claims he has a farm somewhere.

                      There are, of course, all sorts of improvised homemade alternatives, but most of them don’t have the energy density, compactness and user-friendliness needed for a true mass casualty situation. The synthesis and handling of a good many of these compounds is likely to kill the terrorist before he ever gets on target. Even though some of these formulas use very common chemicals anyone can find on the internet, ordering them almost always throws red flags and a visit from federal agents who will work to help you complete your planning just far enough to qualify for a few centuries in the dungeon.

                      I think we do need to be prudent about these things, and to keep an extra ear to the ground if and when explosives become one of the only alternatives to firearms for nuts. I don’t think we have an excuse to discount firearm law changes on the basis that it can’t possibly lower the body count.

                • When I heard some suggest that there were those exploiting the death of children to ramrod their anti-gun agendas, I was appalled at such a suggestion. Glad to see the other side of the debate is willing to lower itself into the cesspit of moral arrogance and self-righteous bilge.

            • “joe”

              thanks for mentioning the china incident matty, i posted a link to that story on another thread here. operative sentence: nobody died.

            • First, the idea that I don’t care is insulting, condescending, and judgmental. If you and certain others have concluded that anyone questioning your ideas doesn’t care about the sound of murdered babies in the morning, then I dare say you and others will be the problems, since that’s exactly the same mentality after 9/11 that said we must do anything and do it now, anyone who questioned being unpatriotic people who didn’t care about thousands dying or America’s well being.

              Assuming it was a slip of the keyboard, I’ll say right now this conversation is 90% emotional response, and about 10% thinking things through. You know it’s bad when you’re smacked down for wanting some facts and figures to back up a solution that would rely heavily on facts and figures. As for the idea that someone who spent months planing and Aurora or Columbine slaughters might have tried other means if denied access to guns, I’m afraid it’s probably true. They already had plans for more carnage apart from assault weapons. Such a ban – assuming almost foolproof, not harming law abiding citizens, and solving every problem we propose – would simply have pushed them to focus on those other means, see for instance Oklahoma City. That’s actually not some unique observation on my part.

              I’ve nowhere said I’m against solutions, ideas, or even restrictions, be them technological or otherwise. But after listening to people cry the blues about how stupid and inept and corrupt and wicked and useless and worthless and everything else our country has been in our responses to 9/11, and how we should always exercise caution, caution, caution, that’s all I’m doing. If the response to reasoned questions is judgmentalism and canned answers, I would suggest that those responses belong more on the side of ‘in the name of 9/11 we must do anything!’, than on the side of those who have criticized that approach for the last 7 years.

              • Kenneth

                I think we’re all ready to concede the point that caution is in order, on this or any other potential solution to gun violence, or any other public safety question we care to ponder. That said, I feel like many here are responding to a sort of false dichotomy which treats proposal of Mark’s concept as some sort of Rubicon or event horizon from which there is no return once crossed. Apart from pure obstructionism, that seems to be where we are talking past each other.

                Advocating a serious exploration of this technology in no way amounts to a signature in blood committing us to mandate universal adoption of the first tech platform that comes down the conveyor belt. This is not a next month or next year solution. There is no natural constituency pushing for it the way they’re pushing for an assault weapons ban. It does have the potential to be a real game changer and may even bypass the tension between public safety and Second Amendment concerns.

                We’ll never know if we don’t try and we’ll never try if we let ourselves be paralyzed by fear of failure. That’s not what our species is about. We’re the one that dared to see what would happen if we customized our termite-mound stick.

                We can’t guarantee in advance that nothing will go wrong. We can’t accurately calculate to four decimal places the probability that something won’t work in the doomsday scenario of your choice. What we can do is engage some of the forebrain that separates us from the chimps and work the problem. Develop, test, and retest the technology and adopt it when it is ripe, to the extent it is ripe. The technology itself is akin to rocket science, but the concept of evaluation is dirt simple. Build a prototype, test it in the lab, then in real-world simulations. The defense industry has done this forever, as has the consumer sector.

                See how the thing performs in dust, and rain, and after it’s been dropped a few times, and if it still does what it should after a few years of daily use. Maybe try it out in paintball guns, and download failure data from a USB port to make adjustments. Give the brightest hackers a run at it, and close the holes they find. Loan test models to the cynical gun magazine writers and take their feedback. Once you have the tech apparently market ready, roll it out in some of the vast section of market that is not life and limb critical – the professional target guns, or the $5,000 bird guns that rich guys would never need to use for self-defense (they are not one-gun dudes, ever).

                Use it on the range guns folks rent or on the trainers used in the military. Roll it out in the consumer market in non-coercive ways while the technology is young and growing. Maybe give people a tax break equal to the purchase price of a “safe gun” the year they buy it. We can do this, prudently, if we set our minds to it, and if we can see past defeatism and obstructionism by the interest groups who have a financial stake in maintaining the status quo.

                • Mark Shea

                  But what if there is not an instantaneous 100% success in every circumstance? Can we really take that kind of *risk*? Suppose there’s a problem of some kind? Suppose we have to fix something that doesn’t work? What if it costs money? Or inconvenience? What if this requires some kind of change in public policy? Suppose not every single American is united in absolute conformity of support? What if somebody somewhere doesn’t like change of any kind?

                  No. Too risky. Can’t do. Give up. Won’t work.

                  • Kenneth

                    What concerns me is the possibility that this sort of reflexive defeatism may not just be a partisan tactic anymore. I think we may have started to internalize such reasoning in a broad and deep way. Not only are we not at the top of the world heap in innovation and competitiveness, we’re starting to lag so far at the back of that pack that we’re barely on the “A” team. More and more of the big new things are happening in India and China and other places that you and I used to send our spare change in grade school to try to alleviate mass starvation.

                    I don’t think that’s a coincidence. These folks dare to dream big and pull at the reigns for the chance to take on the impossible problems, like we used to do… China, a nation that once dreamed of being as rich as Appalachia, has a space program. We have to hitch a ride these days. In almost every direction I look in our culture, I see a dearth of original thinking and ambition. Economics, education, entertainment, and of course politics. Every four years, we have presidential races where we re-fight Cold War issues. A society that tells itself it can’t dare to add a computer chip to a 100-year-old weapon platform is not a nation with great things in store for it.

                • And you know what? I simply asked a few questions, and it’s all this. These aren’t questions I pioneered by the way. If we’re just opening up possibilities, then by all means, let’s do so. Let’s ask. Let’s talk. Let’s question. Why did I ask the technological question? Because I had to take my son’s cell phone in the other day because of a problem and was told it was common to that model. All of those particular cell phones had the same problem. It was an inconvenience sure. But it’s just the way of things in the techo-21st, or so the CSR told me. And that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do. How would all of these fantastic innovations in gun technology play out? Would they have glitches, too? What could be the results? Who could be harmed? Would they even help? If so, great. If they helped, but also caused problems, then what? FWIW, a person involved in actual technology answered me and explained the potential as well as the problems. Some things could be done, others not so much. Fair call. Last I heard, when kicking ideas around, these are all fair and wise questions, and that was a fair and informed answer.

                  But fact is Kenneth, folks can’t have it both ways. They can’t say on one hand they’re just kicking things around, have no clear solutions they’re advocating, and then on the other hand smack down anyone who basically doesn’t agree. Heck, I haven’t said I don’t support technological solutions, I was just asking a question and it’s all this. Which suggests there’s much more to it than ‘we’re just kicking things around’, to be brutally honest. After all, from one question I’ve been called an obstructionist, a person who apparently laments the invention of indoor plumbing and anything else worthwhile, and most heinously of all, a person who cares not a rip about dead children. When those are the responses from people who are just informally tossing out some ideas, I sure as hell don’t want to see what happens when they become committed to a singular course of action.

                  • Kenneth

                    A lot of the concerns and criticisms and pitfall many of you are raising are perfectly valid. What rubs me, and perhaps Mark, the wrong way, is that so many of them seem to be posed in such a manner as to suggest (or sometimes insist), that a tech fix “can’t work” or is just sci-fi fantasy thinking by people who know nothing about guns.

                    • And I’m sure some tech fixes can’t work. And others could but would solve nothing. Or some could only hinder the lawful gun owners, or some could actually bring harm (see my frequent cell phone glitches suck, tech-gun glitches: could they kill?). And yet, still others could be effective. But I think it’s best to not assume anyone is part of anything right now. Of course Newtown shook everyone to their core. I’m sure you wept as I did, as Mark did, as everyone no doubt did, including members of the NRA. But two things we don’t want after Newtown are these: 1. We do nothing at all. Or 2. We rush forward and do anything. I’m willing to imagine anyone who says they aren’t part of either of those two approaches isn’t really part of those two approaches.

                  • Kenneth

                    I will also admit to being committed to a singular course of action in one sense. I have not settled on a fix to the problem, but I am committed to the idea that we have an enormous problem that is utterly unacceptable and that the existing paradigm and the factions dominating the debate have no real solutions to offer.

                    My singular course of action is to think about the problem in new ways and to commit to doing something concrete to improve it in some definite but realistic time frame. I am committed to throwing all sacred cows and presumptions out of the debate and re-thinking the problem from a clean piece of paper. That means there should be no locking into one idea nor discarding any until it’s had serious and (as much as humanly possible, objective) evaluation. That includes looking at ideas that push ALL of our comfort zones or deeply held preconceptions. I believe that Einstein was dead right when he said you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.

          • Oregon Catholic

            I see. Can’t debate the idea so debate semantics instead. Uh huh…that’s intellectually honest.

            • Anson

              I don’t think he’s making an argument from semantics. I think he’s saying we might have seen fewer Newtowns, but more Bath, Michigans.

          • Mark Shea

            And remember: all measures to limit access of maniacs to weapons of mass slaughter are completely futile and stupid if they do not instantly have a 100% success rate.

            Give up. Won’t work. Can’t do.

            • Nope. Not even close. All solutions must be effective, must not create problems for law abiding citizens, must not hinder liberty or freedoms, must not harm or hurt law abiding citizens, must not create bigger problems than we have. I consider that a reasonable standard. Asking if they do these things *before* implementing the solutions seems to me the prudent approach.

              • Mark Shea

                Effective meaning what? Must not create problems meaning what? Must not hinder liberty meaning what? Seat belts do not prevent all auto deaths. Does that make them “ineffective”? Seat belts and air bags drive car prices up. Is that a “problem for law-abiding citizens” or is that “dealing with reality”? Seat belt laws hinder your liberty to not wear seat belts. Is this an intolerable imposition on your absolute right to do whatever you like at all times?

                Your entire line of approach seems to me to be obviously calculated to look for ways to avoid asking, “I wonder if this could work” and look for cost-effective solutions and reasonable implementations and instead search for ways to kill the idea as fast as possible. That you whine about your attempts to do that as being “smacked down” by intolerant people who are saying, “Seem like it’s worth exploring” is hilarious.

                • It means what it means. I don’t think it’s too difficult. It means we should ask questions before we move toward solutions. It means before we continue on this trajectory, it might be worth throwing some ideas out, both pro and con.

                  Again, the technology might be just the thing. Maybe nobody would be hurt by such glitches or any side effects. But if a person is hurt because they were forced to do something that might end up solving nothing at all, it’s worth considering.

                  BTW, my Dad was a train engineer. Most people killed in train collisions either don’t get out or can’t get out of the vehicle in time. More than once my Dad witnessed fatalities because someone panicked and couldn’t get out of the car, sometimes dying with their seat belts on they couldn’t unhook. It was always traumatic for him when it happened. Not surprisingly, my Dad was never a fan of the law that said everyone must wear a seat belt no matter what, since his particular line of work brought him face to face with that negligible number of people who die because they are unable to unhook a seat belt in a crisis moment. Just saying. Hadn’t thought about that for years, but since you brought up seat belts and all.

          • Kirt Higdon

            “Assault rifles” were banned in the US from 1994 to 2004 and many states continue to ban them. The ban had no measurable impact on gun crime or crime in general, partly because “assault rifles” however broadly defined were and are responsible for just a tiny fraction of violent crime to begin with. Violent (and other) crime declined both during the ban and after it expired and the decline continues to this day. But mass school shootings, including Columbine and others, took place during the ban.

            • Kenneth

              The old ban didn’t actually ban anything. It banned some silly cosmetic features, and only those made or imported after 1994 (which was usually impossible to determine). All it did was make a $450 gun a $900 gun and caused people to hoard high capacity magazines.

            • KM

              Biden addressed these issues in his latest Google+ teleconference. One of the tech guys asked about these same issues, and Biden mentioned that the original assault weapons ban was part of a larger crime bill (“The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act”) that included other measures to reduce crime. For instance, the bill enabled 100,000 police officers to be hired across the nation.

              That 1994 ban was passed in response to the 101 California Street shootings, the Waco siege, and other high-profile violent crimes prior to 1994. The intent was to *reduce* those types of violent crimes and to reduce the number of assault weapons on the streets. There was a noticeable reduction in assault weapons found at crime scenes during the ban (1994-2004) as reported by law enforcement.

              Law enforcement has been the main reason behind the call to renew the Assault Weapons ban. Biden said that in his talks with law enforcement personnel, police said they were being outgunned with these military-style weapons (i.e., military weapons that are adapted for the civilian market), and that military-style weapons really have no legitimate role for civilian/public use. Biden acknowledged that such weapons are used in a small percentage of crimes, but when such weapons are used, they lead to increased carnage especially to law enforcement personnel.

              Note: The above info is not meant to scold or lecture. I wanted to share what I learned from watching Biden’s teleconference.

    • Dale Price

      Or, maybe after several weeks of being demonized with comparisons to Nazis, slave owners, segregationists, or flat-out being called un-Catholic nutty survivalists or “Moral Escapists” (hey, new one!) by their brothers and sisters, they’re a little sensitive right now. It’s especially trying when the invective comes from people who are talking out their asses, but feel the need to exert Absolute Moral Authority anyway.

      It happens. Gun owners remain flawed humans, and react accordingly, I’m forced to report.

      • KM

        It seems the whole debate is deadlocked in a trench war. Gun owners don’t trust the “nazi gun-grabbers'” motives, so won’t give one inch because each inch means a slippery slope to tyranny. In the current climate, I can understand why Obama issued those 23 mild EO’s to begin solving the problem (which didn’t begin with Newtown). His other suggestions for Congressional action are uncertain at this point and may die in the No Man’s Land of Congress.

    • Anson

      Or they might think that Mark’s proposal would have the unintended effect of making future Sandy Hooks more likely rather than less. Mark’s solution seeks a techy solution to the problem. It would be much easier to incorporate this type of electronic device into firearms that are already more technologically advanced like the AR rifle and much harder to implement in older model firearms like a lever action rifle. Much easier to implement in guns with plastic furniture than guns with wood stocks and forends. The danger is that you’ve now chosen the direction in which firearms manufacturing will move, from slow to reload firearms with manual actions to semiautomatic firearms with detachable box magazines. The would be mass shooter will have to go through more trouble to disable the devices we put on the AR rifles, but there’ll be a lot more ARs out there to choose from. A technological solution will favor the manufacture of more technological weapons. And there’s not much out there more technologically advanced than Adam Lanza’s Bushmaster.

  • KM

    The “can’t do” spirit: “shooting” down any creative ideas or solutions as quickly as possible.

    • The ‘must do anything’ spirit. See America’s responses to 9/11 for examples.

      • Mark Shea

        Right. This suggestion–on a blog–for a reasonable idea to explore further is actually a rash crazy draconian scheme that will shortly be “plowed ahead” and not only won’t work but will ruin every thing, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Because that’s a huge danger. And you aren’t trying to slap down all discussion or anything.

        Here’s reality: I don’t have any power to set public policy. Somebody asked what I’d suggest and I told them. There is no danger that this is going to be rushed into law. There’s barely any chance that it will ever even be examined for feasibility. And that’s because of the Can’t Do response we are seeing here, which pretends to be asking reasonable questions, but is instead searching for any excuse to say it can’t be done and shouldn’t be attempted or even investigated.

        • I don’t know Mark, I’ve seen you react pretty strongly to people who merely post things on blogs. The thought that the blog suddenly makes all things not anything and everything all at once is a bit strange, and quite frankly, I’m having a hard time figuring out what it even means. Yes, it’s only a blog. That could hence be used for a million topics from here on out. I think since it is a blog, it’s worth tossing out ideas and seeing what happens, raising the flag and seeing who salutes as the old saying goes. But to say ‘it’s only a blog’ on one hand, then come down hard on folks who clearly are going in different directions, again having cake, eating too.

  • Steph

    This is all well and good, but perhaps it should also be pointed out that there is another side to the technology coin. In the very near future while we’re all buying guns from Apple computer and intstalling microchips in our fingers to match, criminals will be sitting in their cellars pressing “print”.


    • Hezekiah Garrett

      That story keeps making the rounds. But It isn’t much harder to go to Home Depot right this minute and for $500 walk out with the tools and materials to produce a submachine gun in a day or two.

      • Steph

        The difference being that it takes a fairly skilled and knowledgeable person to do that. With a 3d printer anyone can do it. As a kind of a side note (getting away from just guns for a moment) the capability of these printers is astounding. They can make anything. One can envision websites devoted to selling and, like pirate websites, giving free open source and somtimes stolen plans to be fed directly into the printers. Everyone will be able to make whatever they want to; car parts, jewelery, toys, tools, and y es, guns.There is always a loophole for those who will not follow the la.w.

  • Alister

    “Islamonazicommieatheistsharia law” is now going on my list of false-tinfoil-hat-wearing catchphrases.

  • Thomas Tucker

    Hey Mark, here’s what I still dont understand about your idea. Assuming the technology works, and only the owner of a gun can use it, how doe that prevent a Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook? If the shooter is over 21, he just goes and gets his guns, and since he is the owner, he can use them for whatever massacre he has planned. How did the tech fix work to prevent that?

    • Mark Shea

      No idea will have a 100% success rate. Seat belts and air bags don’t prevent all auto deaths. Discouraging smoking doesn’t prevent all lung cancer. There will always be some situation where a bad guy can get his hands on a weapon. But this will make that much harder. I also favor things like background checks, psych evals, etc. Sandy Hook would have been prevented with this tech, had Nancy Lanza had it and not given her son the coding (whatever that might be) to make the guns operable.

      • Maiki

        But she could have accomplished the same thing with a gun safe. Or not keeping a gun at all around a mentally ill individual. It still seems like a technology that is mostly cosmetic that makes a gun more prone to failure in an emergency. This is not a “no, we can’t do this” negativity attitude. It is a “Does the benefit of this outweigh the hardships?” Yes, no idea has a 100% success rate. But all ideas have a cost and benefit to them. And this idea is low on the benefit (prevents guns not actively in gun safes from being stolen for a spur of the moment crime) and high on the cost (cost of enforcement, cost of retrofit, cost of development, cost of ease of use in an emergency, cost of accidents).

        Have you read DarwinCatholic’s exposition on Assault weapons, recently? The last segment explaining how most things being banned were largely cosmetic seems to parallel my concerns here. I think if our concern is gun violence against children, there is a lot more useful work to be done in reducing street violence in Chicago than in keeping random incidents like this from happening.

        I mean, look at Norway, they have pretty strict gun laws and checks for gun ownership — the insane man who committed those acts obtained his guns legally, by pretending to be a hunter and a sportsman for a long time, passing his background checks. Gun locks would not be effective in most situations because there is premeditation in the act of acquiring the weapons in the first place for these sorts of events.


        Separately I do think the whole “secession” argument is unrealistic, but I think the argument about preserving civil liberties still has merit even if we don’t intend to break apart into a separate country. If someone intends to abrogate my right to assembly and protest, *I’d rather have a gun to defend that right* even If I never need to shoot it. If someone intends to abrogate my right against unreasonable search and seizure, *I’d rather have a gun to defend that right* even If I never need to shoot it. If someone intends to take away my friends and family to indefinite detention or death, *I’d rather have a gun to defend them* even If I never need to shoot it. (full disclosure, I own zero guns, and have no plans for that to change).

        • Kenneth

          Which would you rather have in a self-defense emergency? A gun safe that puts your weapon completely beyond immediate access or a gun that only answers to you on your nightstand and which does that job better than 99% of the time? Just as it’s premature to legislate the use of an immature technology, it is equally premature to conclude that they fail the cost-benefit test. You don’t know that biometric safeties would be too costly or unreliable or accident prone anymore than I know that they would be the right solution in all applications, or that they will develop into a viable mass market product. If you’re not a naysayer on this technology, and I’m not pollyannaish about it, let’s agree to wait and see what comes of it.

          I think Norway has some excellent gun laws that could serve well as a template for approaches that balance safety and gun ownership. That idea gets shot down (so to speak), every time I raise it around here because the NRA wing of gun owners won’t tolerate any restriction whatsoever. I wouldn’t classify Norway’s laws a failure because of Anders Breivik. Mass killings there are a once in a generation phenomenon. They’re becoming an every-other-month or quarterly thing here. The average number of gun homicides in the U.S. is a full thousand times higher than that of Norway. Their rate of death by gun homicide is literally down in the same range per 100,000 as we see from lightning strikes.

          Norway, while very well armed, has not seen violent death numbers like us since World War II. Even then, their total casualties over the war are still less than our annual gun homicide numbers in any year since the late 1990s! In any recent year outside of Breivik’s rampage, Norway’s gun homicide totals for the year represent about one half of one day’s toll here.

    • Kenneth

      Why do so many of you seem to insist that we weigh any potential solution in a binary and absolutist fashion? “Since your solution won’t stop all potential actions that arise from the hearts of evil men, it’s not even worth considering.”

      That’s a hell of a rubric to use in any decision making, and it tries to refute a claim no one ever made.

      • And the funny thing is, I don’t hear anyone saying it that way.

  • ED

    Mark & Dave G.

    Stop. Enough. You’ve both had your say. Time to make ‘nice-nice’ and move on. Let it go boys…

  • JaneC

    I can see at least one application where Mark’s suggestion would be helpful, and that is in reducing the number of accidents in homes where stupid adults leave guns accessible to curious children. It’s difficult to force people not to do stupid things, but biometrics would presumably make it more difficult for that curious 4-year-old to accidentally shoot his baby brother. On the other hand, computer chip malfunctions could make a gun go off when it shouldn’t. There would have to be a lot of years of testing before I’d want such a thing in my home.

    • Kenneth

      It might shake out that this application is the main benefit of such technology. The accidental firing issue you mentioned could be avoided by design so that the biometric computer must engage something to allow firing, but would not have the power to cock and fire the gun itself. In other words, if the computer recognizes you or an authorized user, it unblocks the firing pin or re-engages something in the trigger assembly to allow firing. A person would still have to pull the trigger.

  • Yikes Mark, you should really work on the reading comprehension. On the gun bit, the state of NJ has stepped up on the smart gun issue and essentially offered up their state as a captive market to whoever can crack the problems associated with smart guns. There’s a lot of money riding on this so it’s reasonable to assume that greedy capitalists would flock to fund such a thing if they could make it work. So far, it hasn’t happened. Now if you’re talking about spending state money on an R&D project to get this technology done, we did that too for awhile with the results being, again, a dry hole.

    In other words, long before you started in on this thread, the battle was joined and resolved and now it’s just come down to waiting for smart people and greedy people to work out the tech and the money aspects respectively. Nobody’s really standing in their way and sudden calls for changes which ignore a decade long process mean what? Does it mean a change in definition so that the 90% accuracy already achieved is declared as mission accomplished? I would like to think better of you than that because such a course has a body count of innocents whose guns fail them attached to it. It would also fit your persona of someone who sometimes shoots from the hip.

    As for secession, other than for useful throat clearing, of course it’s a daft idea to carry out at present. We still have elections. The people can change their political class. The only thing practical about it *is* as a throat clearing exercise for the states to let the federal government know that they have overstepped their bounds. It’s much less dangerous than the alternative of a constitutional convention which I hope you agree would permit the states to do whatever they please, including secede.

    • Kenneth

      I don’t think we can say the technology has flopped OR that the state needs to put its thumb on the scale to make a failed technology sell. It’s a technology that is still in development, but feasible within the near future, ie 10 years, give or take. The underlying technology is here, and will progress with or without direct government money because it works (in certain applications). The market has been driving these things because private industry has a hell of a time dealing with credit card fraud, security of physical spaces etc. Government money plays into that, but as often as not, it’s government as a paying customer that wants to buy hardware and software vs giving out a blank check grant to “do something” with development.

      IF we decide as a society that biometrics is a promising solution to gun safety (and I think Mark makes a good preliminary case), that moves the market along in a very positive way. If we send a clear signal that this is the wave of the future, and that biometric guns will have a distinct market advantage (possibly the only mass market access), that moves venture capital and good thinking to development. Gun manufacturers, including the ones that will wail about this as a regulatory death knell, will find a way to make it work, and make money from it. There is some good maneuvering room on this debate. There’s a real constituency for a biometric solution, but not so much so that Congress is calling for it to be implemented come hell or high water by June or next year.

      I’m not sure rumblings of secession are a good way to make the federal authorities feel chastised or humble. If anything, it’s more likely to encourage them to deepen their War on Terror and security state posture. Losing elections and Supreme Court rulings does tend to rein them in fairly well. A constitutional convention, while potentially more risky, would at least confer legitimacy on the debate and would respect the enormous historical investment we have sunk into this union of ours.