For over 20 years now, companies have been attempting to bring Smart Guns to market. The interesting name seems to invoke thoughts that a regular firearm is dumb and that the smart gun is not. But is that true? Today we will answer that question In this tactical analysis of a standard firearm versus the LodeStar Smart Gun currently in development.
So what’s a Smart Gun?
In general a Smart Gun is a weapon that is only able to be accessed by an authorized user. This is to render a stolen weapon useless and reduce the amount of children killing themselves accidentally with firearms that are unsecured. Through a variety of different electronic devices, a Smart Gun is “linked” to authorized users. In the past, smart weapons have attempted various biometric devices, some as advanced as DNA sampling. However, those weapons never made it out of development as that technology is light years ahead of where we are now. But is today’s technology functionally effective?
The LodeStar 9mm Smart Gun
Today, LodeStar has a triple redundant system they are employing on their Smart Gun pistols. The LS9 prototype 9mm pistol utilized in testing was fitted with 2 fingerprints sensors and a bluetooth connectivity transmitter for linking to a smart phone app. Additionally, they say they will employ a 3-4 digit PIN on the grip for unlocking the weapon. And a 4th talked about device is an RFID equipped ring or bracelet that can also be utilized to unlock the weapon simply by wearing it and grabbing the weapon.
I will give LodeStar credit where credit is due. These devices will solve the problem their Co-founder Gareth Glaser wanted to address. The increasing incidents of children accessing firearms and accidentally killing themselves or a loved one will be foiled if these systems all work without fail. But this is where the principle of the Smart Gun begins to fall apart. The reliance on technology for safety.
Gun Safety Basics
Every trained shooter knows to treat every firearm as if it’s loaded, even when you have just confirmed it is not. And to never trust a mechanical safety. Safety’s fail. It’s like my Grandfather taught me as a young boy, “the trigger is the safety son.” Also, never point a firearm at anything you do not want to destroy. These are some of the basics of firearms safety. My children are also well versed in firearms safety. Add the fact that all my weapons are locked up or on my person at all times, and we have had zero accidents with firearms in my home. Responsibility trumps technology, every time.
Being Responsible for the Irresponsible
But LodeStar is attempting to fix the issue for uninformed, uneducated, and irresponsible persons. That and to make a more secure firearm for police and potentially military use. So let’s break down each one of the systems here and see if they are effective in a defense capacity, regardless if you are a civilian or a professional who uses firearms on the daily. We will utilize the idea of the LodeStar Smart Gun with the 2 existing systems on the prototype test. And then we will see if the addition of the all 4 systems will be functionally better, or worse, in a self defense capacity.
The LodeStar test weapon is equipped visibly with 2 fingerprint sensors. One is on the grip for the firing hand thumb. The other is on the opposite side of the slide in the forward position for the trigger finger. When properly aligned and dry, they engage the Smart Gun in microseconds. And there is the 2 failures here.
Alignment of the hand on the weapon is trainable, yes. But a forward sensor for the trigger finger in the “finger off” position will slow down reaction time, and negatively effect marksmanship. And the big defeat for this tech is moisture. A wet gun, a rainy day, a sweaty hand, could all lead to the weapon becoming inoperable. Sounds to me like inclement weather might equal lots of crime for would be criminals if Police Departments employed this tech.
A Bluetooth Gun, with app (Don’t forget to update!)
The other system is a bluetooth receiver that will unlock the Smart Gun for the authorized user carrying a smart phone with the linked app. And the utlization of this technology exposes the weapon to be hacked by an unauthorized user. Imagine the horror of an entire cities police being rendered unarmed by a criminal hacking the app and switching the guns off. Sounds like the plot to a Batman movie honestly. No thanks!
Or what about if the phone runs out of batteries and shuts off? Does the gun get locked too? Or better yet, a cop has their phone charging in his patrol car while rushing to a radio call. The officer pulls up to a gunfight and quickly jumps out of the patrol car. In the heat of action the cop runs off to help his fellow officers, leaving his phone behind. As soon as he is out of range, around 30 feet for Bluetooth, the Smart Gun is locked and only a weapon if thrown at the enemy or used as a pistol whip. You don’t want to bring a locked Smart Gun to a gunfight. A knife would be better.
Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID)
Now let’s add the other 2 features, more technology, and see if maybe that will solve the problems. RFID rings or bracelets and the PIN. For the RFID solution, that sounds pretty fast and secure, right? Just wear the appropriate ring or bracelet and grab your gun. As long as you have the correct ring or bracelet, you’re good. However, RFID systems such as this have been thwarted before. In Germany, magnets where used to hack the system and unlock a no longer available on the market .22LR pistol. And a directed electromagnet could be used to do the same thing, at range.
And now for the only possible mechanical feature that’s probably electronic too, is the 3-4 digit PIN. I shudder to think of the life saving seconds lost as a cop or homeowner is attempting to punch in the correct code as a loved one or partner is being murdered. And if you punch in the code, and then are killed before you can fire, the code got you killed. And also your gun stolen. Milliseconds save, and end lives.
However, there is one flaw that encompasses all of these systems, electricity. A Smart Gun needs to be all charged up, not just locked and loaded. Gun fights and standoffs limited by battery life are not good. This is the opposite of a force multiplier. This is a force limiter. With the undermanned police we have across the country, this is the last thing you want to do. And then we have the potential for the ultimate SHTF scenarios to be even worse with an electrically locked Smart Gun.
The worst of those are a weaponized EMP or a Solar event. An EMP is an Electromagnetic Pulse and is a secondary result of a nuclear explosion. EMP’s overload and fry electrical systems rendering them inoperable. The EMP effect is felt much further out than the blast wave of a nuclear explosion. Modern weaponized Nuclear EMP devices can be deployed in high orbit over the planet and can shut down an entire continents electrical grid and all electrical devices with one blast, in seconds. And if you have a Smart Gun, it is also inoperable. EMP’s are used by militaries prior to an invasion. You’d want to have functional firearm if invaded, not a fried Smart Gun.
The other SHTF scenario is the Solar Event. In this situation, a solar flare of a high X class could cause EMP like effects, planet wide. Those don’t occur often, about once every 150-200 years or so. The last one was the Carrington Event in 1859. 163 years ago. Could be any time now really. Additionally, a Coronal Mass Ejection of high enough speed and energy could blanket the planet in ultra high energy particles causing a planet wide EMP effect. Don’t Look Up!
In any scenario when the entire planet has been shut down electrically, the only thing you can rely on is mechanical devices for tools, not electronic. You would not want to be the owner of a Smart Gun here. In this ultimate disaster situation, you wouldn’t want your police force to be disarmed either, but they would be if all they had was Smart Guns.
Not So Smart Guns
All in all, I understand the idea of the Smart Gun. But I believe they are inferior weapons to a tried and true mechanical firearm. Like I said before, responsibility trumps technology. Where they can prevent an irresponsible gun owners child from shooting themselves, so would a quick access gun safe. Or carrying the weapon on your person securely in a holster, like I do. For Law Enforcement or military use, these are defeat-able weapons at range with undetectable systems and nature. Not operationally secure for the military or safe for the publics protection by the Police.
The best way to keep a weapon out of an enemies hands, is training to defeat that enemy. Repeated, and constant. Like our best warfighters in the military do. That, and a proper gun safe of course. The best way to keep a child from unsafely handling a weapon is to teach them how to safely handle a weapon. Curiosity killed the cat. So teach the kids responsibility and they will be the better for it.