It’s official. The newspaper of record, a.k.a. the New York Times, has just announced its support of a new government statement on safe-gun technology which probably represents the last thing the Obama administration has to say about guns. And if the New York Times believes that this report is the non-plus-ultra statement about safe guns, then this must be a very solid and very impressive report. In fact, it’s not.
The report is an amateurish cut-and-paste job which was obviously put together so that someone deep inside the bowels of the Department of Justice could complete some end-of-year checklist and get on with looking for a new job. But of course once the New York Times gives this report its official imprimatur you can bet this shabby effort to make something out of nothing will become the new argument for adoption of safe-gun technologies, an argument that has been floating around for more than 20 years under the guise of how digital innovation can help us be safe with guns.
Entitled “Baseline Specifications for Law Enforcement Service Pistols with Security Technology,” the report is an effort to nudge the safe-gun discussion a little further by setting out design and performance standards that would have to be met by any manufacturer hoping to sell such a product to any federal agency whose personnel carries guns. Actually, since the document is not any kind of official RFP, it represents no legal or practical advance at all. For the most part, the text consists of nothing more than a combination of the government’s handgun performance criteria which will be used to possibly adopt a new military handgun sometime in the future, along with design specifications which were taken from an RFP issued by the FBI for a new pistol awarded to Glock.
Buried near the end of the report is a brief section which describes the safe-gun technology itself except that all it basically says is that some kind of ‘security device’ will be a permanent part of the gun, will be programmable and may include something worn by the operator, like a wristband or a ring. By the way, if the security device ‘malfunctions’ the gun will still work.
Now I thought the whole point of safe-gun technology is to prevent a gun from being used at any time except by someone digitally authorized to use the gun. But the problem with these digital gizmos is they need some kind of power source which comes from a battery and batteries wear out. Is the average cop going to check to make sure while he’s on the job that the gizmo is always ready to go? He won’t, which is exactly why the gun defaults to being used by anyone which is exactly why nobody’s going to adopt this gun.
The NYT Editorial Board says this report is a positive step forward in the development of safe-gun technology because it creates “industry standards for reliable battery power in a smart gun, for ensuring unhindered speed in drawing the weapon and for the distance allowed between the gun and its owner’s ID device.” In fact, what the report does is give the gun lobby an excellent opportunity to once again claim that gun-grabbing bureaucrats will find any reason to take away our guns. The NRA called the report another example of “empty gestures meant to placate a gun control constituency that was disappointed Congress had spurned efforts to restrict Second Amendment rights,” and went on to list several parts of the report (beyond what I mentioned above) which demonstrated the lack of substance and understanding about the actual use of safe guns.
The gun industry opposes safe-gun technology because it fights any effort to reduce gun violence through government mandates, government regulations or anything else that interferes with the industry’s ability to control the kinds of products it decides to put out for sale. But the gun violence prevention community shouldn’t make it any easier for the gun lobby to pursue its aims, and the decision of the NYT Editorial Board to promote this report moves the safe-gun argument in a direction it shouldn’t take.