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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun control by GPS, RFID, Fingerprints -- Sample Letter to Congress


As usual, when I think of a solution to a problem (see, e.g., my "invade Switzerland" post), someone else has gone there before me.  This time, after considering the Connecticut school shooting tragedy -- carried out by possibly-autistic-graduated-from-high-school-three-years-early-wicked-smart-doesn't-make-eye-contact-20-year-old Adam Lanza (now deceased) -- the idea of putting a GPS microchip in ALL guns occurred to me.

I don't want to seem callous.  Before going further, let me assure my readers that just thinking about this shooting devastates me anew every time.  Although I haven't actually seen any image, my brain conjures them up and it is painful beyond description.  I have raised or helped raise 5 different kids through that age and it is truly an age of innocence and wonder.  The whole thing just make me sick beyond words.

Back to the GPS-on-guns point.  I just googled it, and it's not an automatically-filled-in google search, but some hits come up.  Here's the first one, from "thetruthaboutguns.com", in March 2011.  Apparently legislation has even been proposed (in Massachusetts) to "study" the feasibility of GPS chips in guns.  In other words, it's obvious that true legislation on this is politically infeasible, but at least some politicians have had the guts to propose a study, to perhaps show that this might be a viable method of preventing -- or minimizing the damage -- done by some of these tragedies.  And of course, another byproduct would be that many many other gun crimes would become much easier to solve.

Let's start by acknowledging that there are technical problems to using a GPS tracker that might still take years to overcome.  GPS tracking devices use power, and so need batteries, and the batteries will eventually need to be recharged.  Currently, an emitter sending a regular GPS signal on a regular battery will only last a day or so before needing a recharge. And even I don't think it makes sense to put the onus of keeping the GPS device charged on the gun-owners.  They'd simply let the charge run out before going on their shooting spree.

The other option is the idea of putting a RFID chip -- a transponder that can be read by an external reader, e.g. like what stores put on their merchandise, and what's inside an EZ Pass -- and then have readers all over the place (e.g. on telephone poles), especially near schools and malls.  The readers would feed their information into a program that would be able to detect if the gun is moving in an unusual manner, e.g. toward a school.

The only "downside" to something like this (as explained in the blog) is that the government will be able to track the movements of people who are carrying guns.  I don't trust the government any more than the next guy, but I have no problem with the government knowing where all the guns are.  Sorry, I just don't.  If you're using or carrying your gun legally (as Barack Obama says the Second Amendment gives you the right to do), then that's fine, but that doesn't mean the rest of us can't know where you are.

In fact, I'd be perfectly happy if the whole thing -- a giant database where all the guns are -- were available to EVERYBODY at all times, over the internet, on their iphones etc.  The one exception I'd make is that if you've got a gun at home, the database would NOT report on its location, even if it knew it.  It only becomes visible when you take it out.  That should actually comfort gun owners, because it helps level the playing field -- i.e. they can look on the internet and see if people with guns are coming near their house, but those people won't know which houses have guns in them.  That way, everyone can have an alarm any time a gun is nearby.  And of course, the police have the info too, and can both prevent and solve crimes with it.

I'd propose that the GPS or RFID chip be buried so deep in the gun that it's impossible to take out without serious work.  Perhaps it's even possible to do it so the gun won't fire without the chip, or such that taking the chip out would cause great problems for the gun itself.  And of course, the penalty for having a chip-free gun would be very steep.

We'd have to backfit all existing guns, and perhaps those backfitted devices would be easier to remove. But again, there would be steep penalties for doing so and for having such a gun, no matter how "innocent" you think you are.

It looks like the bill the blog was complaining about died soon thereafter, in 2011 (links below).  So not even a study can get through the liberal Massachusetts state legislature.  What hope is there for federal legislation?  That's up to you (see below).

I see a Yahoo open forum questioner had a similar idea in the wake of the shooting yesterday.  This person suggests having guns lock up near schools, malls, and government offices, and also mentions that they already have guns that will only operate after checking the user's fingerprint.  I didn't know about the fingerprint option; that could help in some cases -- including this one, where the kid got the guns from out of his mother's gun collection (at least according to early reports).

Anyway, now would be the chance to get Congress to take seriously at least the idea of "studying" a technological solution to gun control.  Why not let them?  They spend so much time and money studying other stuff, why not let them study something that might actually lead to lives being saved?

And here's one last idea:  have the study include a chance for public input in the end.  In other words, present findings plus options to the public after it's over.  And then have a means for the public to "vote" on which option they like best.  The public's vote obviously wouldn't count for anything -- this is a representative democracy after all -- but, if "votes" like this were to become a regular feature of our democracy, it would help the public see just how out of step its politicians have become, and might become a force for causing politicians to become more accountable to their publics on issues that really matter.

OK, I've run out of time to study the issue, but there doesn't seem to be much on it on Google YET.

YOU can make the difference -- Write your Congressperson now, and make this a campaign issue!

Oh what the heck.  I'm going to spend 10 more minutes and write you a form letter to send to your Congressperson. You can find out who your representatives are by punching in your zip code here:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/#listrep

And then you click on their names and you'll find something that says "contact me," and that should give you a method of emailing them.  I just went to Jim Moran's site, and it's that easy --

https://moran.house.gov/contact-me/email-me

(I spelled out those links so you can tell they are legitimate, and can click them without fear)

Here's a form letter for you to use -- feel free to modify and personalize:

Dear Rep./Sen. _____:

I was devastated by the attack on schoolchildren that occurred in Connecticut on December 14, 2012.  I cannot help but wonder if the attack could have been prevented through a combination of legislation and technology.  I see that last year, State Senator Anthony Petruccelli introduced a bill in Massachusetts (S. 1224) to study the idea of putting GPS locators on firearms.  That idea sounds very good to me, but the bill seems to have died in Massachusetts.  It's time for serious, national attention to this issue.

So I am asking you to propose -- or support proposals -- that Congress seriously study the idea of using modern technology to track the locations of guns and to otherwise help prevent these eminently preventable massacres.  GPS trackers might not be the right answer at this point in time -- they might not be technologically feasible, because of power requirements.  The study should also consider the costs and benefits of putting RFIDs into guns, so that gun locations can be tracked by external readers.    It should also study the pros and cons of keying guns to the registered owner's fingerprint, so that only the legal owner can operate the weapon.  Of course, the study should not be limited to these ideas.

I have no problem with people having guns in their homes for self-defense, and I have no problem with people using guns for hunting or target practice in designated areas.  But if we have the technology to prevent people from carrying out murderous attacks on innocent children, I think we need to study it in a very public way, and figure out what will work and what won't.  After the study is reported, then let the people decide.  Yesterday, a lot of parents started thinking about gun control in ways they never had before.  And parents are voters.

Perhaps there is a solution that helps safeguard the "privacy rights" of gun owners, while also protecting our children.  If we don't do the study, we'll never know, and more innocent lives will be lost.

If you do not support legislation for studying the idea of using technology to track firearm locations, I will have a very hard time voting for you next time around.

Sincerely,


___________
(name)

___________
(zip code)



You can also send or email the same letter to the President as follows (lifted from http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/write-or-call#write):


Write a letter to the President

Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your message gets to the White House as quickly as possible.
1. If possible, email us! This is the fastest way to get your message to President Obama.

2. If you write a letter, please consider typing it on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. If you hand-write your letter, please consider using pen and writing as neatly as possible.

3. Please include your return address on your letter as well as your envelope. If you have an email address, please consider including that as well.

4. And finally, be sure to include the full address of the White House to make sure your message gets to us as quickly and directly as possible:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Finally, feel free to start a White House petition ("We the People") on this issue:





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