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Tag Archives: firearm

Before Apple’s success encouraged advertisers to append a lower case “i” onto every noun they could find, there was a similar interest in using the word “smart” as a modifier. The idea was that “Smart” things were controlled by computers in such a way s they were more effective than with just manual controls, as opposed to reality in which many simple devices only gain the feature to crash and require reboot.

The term “smartgun” was one such iteration of this.

The term goes back at least to the 1980’s. Various versions of the concept existed prior to that, however, in novels and in film. But what does it mean, you ask?

The term gets applied to weapons that either have some form of firing mechanism that makes them super-humanly accurate with minimal targeting or that only fire when pointed at a genuine threat.

Generally, the former version involves some sort of fire control computer which does the targeting for the shooter, who then gives the go ahead to actually discharge a round. Up until recently, this was pretty much fiction when it came to personal firearms, though a company has produced a rifle that promises even novice shooters the kind of accuracy produced by expert snipers.

The Trackingpoint rifle

The firearm costs as much as a reasonable Toyota but if you put it’s targeting system to work, the rest should pretty much be foolproof.

The second definition is also in the works as well. There are several companies that have been trying to use various widgets so that guns only fire in the hands of their users. Some use fingerprint recognition while others require the shooter to wear a ring or carry some device to let the gun know that it’s allowed to fire.

The big issue I personally (as well as many others have) is that the effects of a firearm not firing when it is needed most likely would end in tears. Admittedly, so do negligent discharges or guns getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, but I’m not sure I want to find out the hard way that my handgun won’t fire because the batteries went dead.

The auto-targeting marvels coming down the pipe also come with their own sets of concerns, though the one most often bandied about by people alarmed with any functional firearm (“Criminals will get it!”) seems to be overblown, mostly because of the technologies high dollar barrier to entry and the fact that manually targeted firearms suit their purposes just as much and are already widely available.

The advancements in firearms tech do not change that a gun is mostly a tube with a spring on one end. Still, there are some interesting and impressive developments and it’s only a matter of time before they’re affordable.

But today, the only way for most people to have a smartgun is to have a gun and be smart, a thing that no computer will ever entirely replace and that has historically always been a rare commodity.

I know I’m a week or so behind the curve on this one, but I wanted to start off this blog with a few words about the 3D Printable handgun.

For those who are reading this, but are unaware of the Liberator (the recent one, not the one from WWII), basically I’m talking about a large, single shot pistol that can be produced on a 3D printer. The 3D printer is a machine costing about as much as a subcompact that uses computer models to produce actual artifacts out of plastic (though some metal versions exist, I am told). It also can only produce parts, but a handgun assembled from parts is still a handgun.

A company in the state of Texas, Defense Distributed, has been working towards the goal of producing a firearm that one could produce on a 3D printer for some time. They’d already produced gun parts, a sound suppressor and generally made a lot of people nervous. Politicians began to seek to pass legislation to make the production of printable firearms illegal. Headlines were grabbed like water at the end of a marathon.

In general, this freaked some people out, as if now one could run down to Kinko’s and print out a Glock.

But the problem is this: this is not a great handgun. It’s got a plastic barrel that has, in one test, failed after the first shot. To reload it, you have to remove that barrel. It is chambered in .380, which is at the debatable bottom end of defensive handgun calibers. It is the size of two smaller semi-automatics. The firing pin still must be metal. And on top of that, there’s the detail that bears repeating, that it is produced on a machine that costs enough that you can, even at today’s prices, go buy around 10 AR-15’s instead and have cash left over for ammunition.

And yet, the U.S. Government had Defense Distributed pull down the plans.

The message there is less about the ability of people today to acquire a inadequate firearm for an exorbitant price, but as a warning to the inevitable successors of Defense Distributed who will produce more durable firearms. But that will not stop people from distributing the Liberator plans or the intellectual children of the gun.

What I find interesting is how much the actual firearm’s capabilities are misunderstood, how much the importance of the achievement is downplayed, and how much this is a 2nd Amendment issue that has become a 1St Amendment one. I’m not trying to downplay the achievement, but it’s important to remember that firearms are simple machines and have been cobbled together from much less hi-tech sources.

A reasonable firearm of the same capabilities can be made with some duct tape, a couple of pieces of pipe, a nail and a rubber band. The Sten sub-machine gun is made essentially from bicycle parts and is a fully automatic weapon. In wartime, people have produced pistols, rifles and light artillery by hand.

This is nothing new.

One day, sooner than we think, people will have a device in their house that can spit out simple things. You could print a figurine, a cup, a flute or many other artifacts. It will be awesome.

But you’re not going to be able to download a Glock anytime soon.

Perhaps we should stop acting like it.