Jonathan's Soapbox

This page first posted 2 December 1998.

Left Coast, Right Idea

Every now and again a technology comes along that really reminds you how much better life is getting: The wheel, clocks, steam power, electric power, antibiotics, telephones, radio, microwave heating, non-invasive diagnostic machines, defibrillators, masses of generally good things. The latest quantum leap product reported in Spectrum is set to become the next real winner: Isomorphic handguns. Yup, the gun that only its owner can fire.

The sales pitch is neat but quite unnecessary. It goes like this: Statistics show that many firearm incidents are the result of you getting shot with your own gun, for instance by someone robbing your house. Once accidental discharges killing children and people shot by a gun that arrived with them, such as policemen shot with their partner's weapon, are taken into account, you have accounted for the majority of all firearm incidents. Anti-gun lobby groups contend that a gun that can only be fired by its owner will eliminate these incidents. Children will no longer be able to shoot themselves with their parent's or neighbour's guns. They are all for it.

Technologically and business-wise, this is an attractive proposition. High technology starts want a piece of the lucrative market traditionally held by a few established firms. Guns have grips that contain nothing but ballast at the most, and are vehicles asking for modernisation and with the space to house it with little outward change. The product has virtually no negative aspects. The owner-identification requirements are a well-placed steppingstone on the route to secure identification of users of banking facilities, and so on, a big market that is being pursued by many, so they won't be investing in a niche technology, but something with a huge potential. And best of all, the right to bear arms, constitutional typo or not, is dear to the hearts of a mighty lot of US citizens who would love to get one of the main arguments of their opposition and bury it but good.

There are already products in the gun aftermarket, aimed at securing a gun. These are real loser technologies, like the one where you have to key in a PIN on a wee little keypad on the butt of the pistol. Oh yeah, picture the policeman surprising the guy robbing the bank: "Stop or I'll key in my PIN... I say you, hold it right there! Now was that 2361... or 2631... Stop I say!".

No, the new isomorphic automatic will scan your finger print (using an existing commercial sensor) as you slide it along the body, presumably en route to the trigger. No darn safety catch to slow you down or get forgotten. In less than 1 second (the time it used to take Napoleon Solo to draw and fire, as I recall), the commercial DSP chip checks that you are the guy who paid for this latest high-tech toy, and the LED behind the sight comes on to say "you can blow the sucker away NOW!".

Colt's competing technology is almost as sexy. The gun has a scanner that polls a transponder in a ring or wristwatch band. You gotta "carry the key", but it would probably suit the fast draw set because it doesn't have to do any serious calculating.

But let's be honest here, it isn't the safety issue alone. It's the thought that you might get to see the look on the face of the guy you find robbing your place when you gun jams on him, followed by the last fleeting flicker of horror when you catch the gun he throws at you, smile politely and use it to empty the clip into his soft parts. This would truly be getting your money's worth, American style.

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