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Lets say we have near future, which has both regular guns and energy based stun guns (What would the rules for carry and use of weapons be affected by reliable stun guns?). The government wants ways to regulate and prevent criminal use of these weapons. This need is further driven by the inability to use ballistics to trace stun gun use back to the firing weapon to link the owner of a weapon to a crime; and by the fact that the quieter and less restricted stun guns have proven a very effective way of killing by stunning someone and killing them at leisure in a less public and harder to trace manner.

Being the near future we have access to all our modern technology, and it's cheaper in the future, making installing some of it on regular guns a more viable option financially. Any technology which can reasonable be expected to be created in the next say 75 years may also be available.

I'm wondering what counter measures that are not currently used may be added to minimize illegal use of these weapons. I'm looking mostly at ideas for incorporating features within the weapons that are sold themselves, though other countermeasures which make sense I'm open to.

In particular I'm interested in not only what could exist, but what will, meaning what will the public accept. We could, for example, build in a chip that is suppose to disable a gun entirely if it receives some programmed police disable command, however, I'm not convinced that anyone would be able to pass a law mandating something like this due to gun advocates complaints about the regulation, the odds of it being used by criminals etc etc. I'm wondering what people would actually allow. In fact I feel this question is as much a cultural one then technological, I figure it's resistance from gun advocates that would prevent many options more then technical limitations.

Note, obviously anything built into a weapon could be disabled by criminals, but if you make it hard enough you can still limit the harm then the less tech savvy and harden criminals (aka 95% of criminals) can do, and thus interventions could still be useful.

One idea I had was to add a chip into stun guns, and possible regular ones as well, which recorded at minimum when exactly a gun was fired, and potentially a rough area based off of GPS. A police officer )and only officers with appropriate security keys) who has access to the gun, and perhaps a search warrant, could then download the information to see if this particular gun was fired at the time of a crime to decide if the gun owner is a suspect. I think this option is viable both technologically and unlikely to get as heavy resistance from gun advocates due to the fact that it doesn't prevent the gun use, can only be used by cops, and is less invasive then say, a cop being able to look up when you made calls on your phone, so it hardly lacks precedent. I welcome thoughts on the viability of this option, but I'm looking for other options as well.

I have a slightly higher interest in US for culture, however, I'm looking at a global perspective and not limiting myself exclusively to US. If an option may be viable in other country but would be shot down in the US due to the 2 amendment I'm still interested in it.

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    $\begingroup$ Some reason not allowing soldier to take quarter in a citizen's home would stop a gun law from passing? :) $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Nov 12 '15 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Dallaylaen however that would mean the government would have to control the distribution of those electronic devices. $\endgroup$
    – colmde
    Nov 13 '15 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ @colmde Of course, government would (given my assumptions hold) mandate obligatory wearing of at least one network-enabled device attached to the head, because it cares so much about controlling... err... I mean, protecting citizens! P.S. By "devices" I meant regular cellphones, perhaps with a headset to that a sensitive device is close to the stunning blast. $\endgroup$
    – Dallaylaen
    Nov 13 '15 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen you said technology likely within 75 years. I think 75 years from now a 3d printed fully functional projectile weapon of some sort is very likely. $\endgroup$ Nov 13 '15 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ > """This need is further driven by the inability to use ballistics to trace stun gun use back to the firing weapon to link the owner of a weapon to a crime; """ Tasers sold to/for civilians already use "tagents'--little pieces of plastic confetti with the serial number of the taster on them. This works even better than forensics (not ballistics) to track the device back to the owner. $\endgroup$
    – Petro
    Aug 27 '21 at 15:29
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Most nations other than the US do not assume that a right to privacy while firing guns overrides public safety interests. Other countries try to strike a balance, and make shooting guns at least as restricted as driving cars.

Automatic 911 Call

Instead of enabling/disabling the stunner, the control chip calls the police whenever it is fired. Perhaps with biometric technology to pass the fingerprints or other data of the user along. The police then matches the firing event with licensed shooting ranges and responds if there is any question (like unreadable fingerprints due to gloves). That implies training on private property is illegal unless the property is certified as a shooting range.

The firing systems are deliberately more fragile than the commo systems, so firing fails first.

Disable and Reset

Use cryptographic systems and GPS to assure that the stunner can only be used for a limited time outside a certified range. The range gets a digital certificiate which includes coordinates and opening hours. When the stunner is fired on the street or in a private home, a countdown starts to shut it down. It will only be enabled after an investigation of the shooting.

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  • $\begingroup$ Both good answers. I had thought of the first as a easier version of Balilistic Cryptography idea of CCJ's actually, though I was thinking more e-mail the police, so you can keep more through data of time location etc. I'm not sure investigating every shooting would be practical, but being able to figure out which gun shot at a suspected crime scene could still work. I like disable & reset, particularly the idea of disabling after X hours after a shot, to allow investigation. A simple "I lost it disable it" feature as well already exists today and clearly would be useful for guns. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Nov 13 '15 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen, the automatic call would be a computer-generated text message, not a voice call. The difference between that and email is a technical detail. "Disable and reset" implies that every use of the stunner must be investigated before it is unlocked again. Coupled with a paper trail for each stunner, that means a criminal could use the stunner once and then he would have to explain how it was lost. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Nov 14 '15 at 7:37
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Built-In Biometric Locks

Guns (both energy and ballistic) could be manufactured to function only for a specific set of biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints and genetic markers. Today's biometrics are usually configurable by the end-user, which introduces an exploit vector. If the biometric identifiers of intended users were known at build-time, the weapons would be at least slightly harder to operate for unintended users. This would certainly raise the price of guns, but the price increase might be indirect and delayed enough to allow the legislation mandating built-in biometric locks to pass.

Ballistic Cryptography (Ballisticrypt!)

This would be difficult to add to modern ballistic guns, but energy weapons could be programmed to leave a 'blast trace' of some sort that could be read as a cryptographic signature unique to the firing hardware (other variables, like GPS coordinates and a timestamp, could be encoded in it as well). In addition to making it harder to anonymize a shooting than picking up shell casings, this approach could provide a world of useful forensic data to investigators: guns equipped with camera and microphone modules, for instance, could leave behind context-clarifying images, video, and audio. Cryptographic hashes of the forensic data in the blast trace could help ensure that trace data was not tampered with or manufactured after the fact. Given that privacy concerns usually don't extend so far as being able to shoot people without authorities meddling in one's business, this approach might be acceptable even to gun/privacy advocates.

Artificial Scarcity of Ammunition

Regulatory authorities could put a strangle-hold on the production of ammunition and/or the propellant chemicals and other component materials that are required to make ammunition useful. If ammunition became prohibitively difficult to obtain without going through official channels first, it might (eventually and theoretically) be more difficult for illegal gun use to occur. This approach has the advantage of making extant illegally-owned and operated guns effectively useless (after the current supplies of ammunition are exhausted, that is). If the process of obtaining ammo legitimately through official channels, with license checks etc., could be made seamless, this approach might prove acceptable to many gun advocates.

...combined with...

Natural Self-Destruction

Remember hard-drive disks? The platters inside HDDs are so sensitive that they cannot be exposed to the open air; dust particles are sufficient to ruin them forever. This wasn't intentional, but it certainly did make tampering with their internals a more difficult chore. If the hardware controlling the mechanisms above could be isolated in a compartment of the weapon that, if opened outside a clean room (or perhaps outside a vacuum), would make the entire weapon permanently non-functional, hacking it to work for unintended users would be harder still. Not bullet-proof, but tougher than filing off a serial number.

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There are three big problems with the path of your thought:

  1. Criminals don't obey laws.
  2. "Distributed manufacturing" makes laws of prohibition obsolete.
  3. Criminals buy, sell and trade with each other all the time.

Consider this bit of humor: https://youtu.be/B3EBs7sCOzo (link goes to video of James May from "Top Gear").

Laws of prohibition (drugs, weapons, etc.) have never been particularly effective, and as the various forms of "3-D printing" and CAD-CAM become more prevalent people who are willing to violate the law for financial gain will be able to produce better "home made" firearms, and if the demand is there "tasers".

Of course firearms are basically a 19th century technology, and tasers a 1980s technology. Which means that any one who can do a web search can put together a "gun" that will actually fire at least once from stuff they find in your average hardware store. This isn't something I'd want to bet my life on for defense, but if all I'm trying to do is frighten you into giving me your wallet, or if all I want to do is put a bullet in your face...it'll work. And they could (and can) do all of this without technology any more modern than a 1950s vintage lathe, drill, and some files.

There's a Youtube video on building your own "stun gun".

Any half-competent machinist could fairly easily replicate the Colt M1877, so named because it was invented in 1877, back before we had transistors, much less chips.

There are lots of technologies either here now, or within technical reach that would make it difficult or impossible for someone to use an legal weapon without it being obvious. One (that I mentioned in a comment above) is the use of "tagents". In the case of tasers this takes the form of little plastic pieces with a serial number on them. In the case of a firearm it could take the form of a particular mix of chemicals added to the powder to identify a lot of ammunition.

Others are:

  1. Technologies like modern cars that won't start without a particular chip in close proximity. In the case of firearms this takes the form of a ring.
  2. Palm print readers on the grips.
  3. Use Bluetooth to link the firearm to an app on a GPS enabled device so that to be used it has to be connected, and thus marking your location.

The thing to keep in mind is that in places where there are already significant restrictions on weapons--places like Australia, Brazil, Canada and California--the number of "home made" firearms confiscated by police is significant.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd think the main catch to 3D printing a gun is that the plastics that go through a 3D printer have to melt at temperatures that are not ridiculously high so they can go through the print mechanism, but a gun produces high temperatures. Perhaps a phaser would not have such high internal temperatures and could be 3D printed easily. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Aug 27 '21 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ First off there are already mostly 3D printed guns. Just a few (critical) bits aren't printed--barrels, springs etc. There are other tools that can turn a bog-standard piece of steel into a very workable barrel. The point is that it's not "possible in the hear future", it's being done now. $\endgroup$
    – Petro
    Aug 28 '21 at 2:50
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As you say, a big issue is not what is technologically or procedurally possible but what is socially and politically acceptable. And of course this varies from country to country and over time. If you're working on a novel, a lot depends on what sort of society you're imagining the future to be. One could certainly imagine a future Europe where conservatives have taken control and gun control has been considerably loosened. Or a future America where liberals have taken control and gun control has been tightened. Or a scenario where one side or the other radically changes its position on gun control.

Anything that can disable a weapon could presumably be used by criminals to prevent law-abiding people from defending themselves. For example, there have been some discussions for conventional guns today that the gun should communicate with a ring or a watch or something else that the user would wear, so that only an authorized user can fire the gun. Gun rights proponents have replied: So a criminal could disable any gun by jamming radio signals. This isn't hard to do. I saw a video recently where someone demonstrated that he could disable an alarm system that relies on wireless sensors by jamming the signals using a garage door opener set to the same frequency.

What if the "lock" device breaks and the weapon won't fire in an emergency? I'd hate to find myself facing a thug who has just broken into my house, I fire my weapon, and ... nothing happens because the lock broke. Of course it's possible for the firing mechanism to break. But that's unavoidable, a weapon has to have a firing mechanism to function. The lock mechanism is a total add-on.

Any lock mechanism that relies on sending a signal by cell phone or wifi would have the problem, What if you don't have a cell phone or wifi signal? Weapons would cease to work in the wilderness, where you might need them most. Or during a power failure, when lawlessness might be particularly high.

An "alert" system would be more politically acceptable, provided that it does not prevent the weapon from firing. i.e. something that sends a message saying the weapon has been fired. You wouldn't have to ban firing outside of licensed ranges for this to be useful. Just let all firings be logged and stored away. Then when a crime is reported, you look at these logs to see who fired a weapon and when.

Perhaps the weapon can simply keep an internal log of when it was fired. Then if someone is suspected of a crime, you check the log on his gun. This would be comparable to the devices on most cars today that track how the car was driven, and in case of an accident can be used by a court to determine who was responsible. People object to these on privacy grounds ... but the objections don't seem to be too widespread or vocal.

Is there something you could do comparable to ballistics, to link a victim to a particular weapon? I saw a scifi show once where they measure the amount of energy absorbed by the victims body and compare that to the amount of energy emitted by the laser weapon to a bunch of decimal places. They didn't explain in detail but I presume the idea was that every weapon would have some variation in the amount of energy it put out from normal manufacturing tolerances, how long the firer held the trigger, whatever. Is such a thing possible? Seemed farfetched to me, but then they were assuming technology that could build starships, so who knows? Could we do something similar but no so high tech? Like when you fire the stun gun, it also fires some tiny particles embedded with a serial number? Or they all have a slightly different spectrum that can be detected in the victim's body?

Could you work out a technology where the weapon marks the person who fired it in some way? One way that they catch criminals who use conventional guns is with a paraffin test. When you fire a gun, some traces of gunpowder are left on your skin. If the police can test you before you quickly enough, they can prove that you fired a gun within such-and-such a period of time. Similarly, banks commonly place a die bomb in stolen money, leaving ink stains on the thief that can be easily seen and serve as evidence that he handled the stolen money. Of course the mark couldn't be blatantly harmful or law-abiding users would be injured while practicing at the shooting range. Perhaps it could be something low-tech like spraying particles that would stick to the firer's skin. Or something more sophisticated like minute amounts of radioactivity that would be harmless but detectable.

For any such measure, you would have to consider what criminals could do to circumvent it. Presumably a smart enough criminal could disable any "safety" devices. But a smart enough criminal can disable any alarm, etc. The really dumb criminals could be expected to just blunder along. And in real life, most criminals are not the criminal masterminds of Hollywood, they're idiots who turned to crime because they can't figure out any way to get money legally. But the middle ground may be more problematic than you're thinking. A criminal of average intelligence may not have the skill and knowledge to disable a safety device. But if the geniuses figure out how to do it and they can package that solution into a gadget, they can sell that gadget to other criminals. Like, 99% of criminals surely don't have the vaguest idea how to design and build a cell phone. But that certainly doesn't mean that criminals can't use cell phone to help them commit their crimes. If, say, a safety device can be disabled with some kind of jamming device, a smart criminal could invent the jammer, and then make a bunch of them and sell them to the less-brilliant criminals.

So to wrap up, I think any safety device would have to fall in one of 5 categories: 1. Prevent the gun from firing. 2. Notify the authorities when a gun has been fired. 3. Keep a log of when a gun has been fired. 4. Link the victim to a specific gun. 5. Mark the person who fired the gun.

I can't think of any other general categories.

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In the future guns of any kind may be totally buildable at home via 3D printing. Even as I type this, people have successfully used 3D printers to make ammo clips (not the ammo though) and other gun parts.

So the only effective way to really control this would be absolute monitoring of what people are doing on the Internet; You wouldn't be able to monitor just the 3D printers. Unfortunately this would mean the end of privacy as well.

Even going through this route, there will always be a mad genius that will be able to assemble a gun from a 3D printer without downloading anything through the internet. You would have to scan people as they go in and out of public places - from metal detectors to the x-rays machines from airports - to catch criminals before they commit a crime. Welcome to Minority Report, sans premonition but much more brutal.

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