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New Scientist-Guns special report: why isn't life-saving technology implemented?

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Triad, Jul 16, 2003.

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  1. Triad

    Triad Member

    Dec 25, 2002

    19:00 09 July 03
    The US Congress is close to passing a bill giving gun makers immunity from liability for deaths or injuries caused by their products; legislation that would place gun makers in a uniquely privileged position. The move highlights the special place granted to guns in US culture, whereby the heavy toll of death and injury that guns inflict is normally viewed as a social and political problem, in which the need to tackle gun crime and accidents is set against traditional rights and freedoms to bear arms.

    But many experts in the field are arguing that the casualties caused by guns should be seen as something different: a public health crisis that must be tackled with the same vigour as infectious diseases, mental illness and industrial and traffic accidents. To reduce the staggering numbers of gun-related deaths and injuries, they say, manufacturers should embrace a raft of technologies that make guns safer and stop them being used to commit crime.

    There are 200 million privately owned guns in the US, including 65 million handguns. Firearms are now the second biggest cause of injury-related death in the country, killing 28,663 people in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. For African-American teenagers aged 15 to 19, gun-related homicide is the leading cause of death, and for all American teenagers of similar age gun-related homicide and suicide come second only to motor vehicle accidents. "If it's the number one cause of death for portions of the population, how can it not be a compelling public health problem?" asks Stephen Teret of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, Maryland.

    Gun-related homocide

    Douglas Wiebe of the Firearm Injury Center at Penn (FICAP) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia agrees. Last month, Wiebe and colleagues found that people who keep guns at home have a 72 per cent greater chance of being killed by firearms compared with those who do not, and are 3.44 times as likely to commit suicide (Annals of Emergency Medicine, vol 41, p 771). A 1997 survey by the CDC that compared the US with 25 other industrialised countries, including the UK and Australia, showed that the number of gun-related homicides in the US per 100,00 children below the age of 15 was 16 times that of all the other countries combined. The proportion of children below 15 who use guns to kill themselves was 11 times higher.

    Many people in the US legitimately own firearms, and with no realistic prospect of gun ownership being banned that is unlikely to change. Around half a million guns are stolen from people's homes every year, many of which go on to be used in a crime. Making these weapons childproof, or designing them so that they can only be used by an authorised owner, could help reduce the number of gun-related injuries and deaths, says Teret.

    Some simple technological safeguards, such as an indicator to show whether the chamber is loaded, invented 100 years ago, are still not universal on handguns. And with gun manufacturers under no compulsion to produce safe weapons, more sophisticated safety mechanisms are even rarer (see Graphic). When John Milne of Michigan State University in Kalamazoo and his colleagues recently surveyed 263 types of pistol made in the US they found only 13 per cent had a loaded chamber indicator. Only 20 per cent had a grip safety to make it hard for children to use the gun. And just 21 per cent had a magazine safety, which stops the gun firing once the magazine has been removed, even if there is already a round in the chamber (Annals of Emergency Medicine, vol 41, p 1).

    Personalised weapons

    While laws in states such as California and Maryland have driven manufacturers to build in some safeguards, critics still argue that there is no proof that this reduces the number of accidental deaths or injuries. The National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the sponsors of the immunity bill before Congress, sees such laws as the first step on the road towards limiting people's right to own guns.

    Robert Ricker, a former lawyer for the NRA who has since testified in lawsuits against gun manufacturers, says that when the gun maker Smith & Wesson agreed with the Clinton administration to build safety devices into its weapons, the NRA led a boycott that nearly destroyed the company. The experience has made gun manufacturers wary of adding safety features to their weapons, he says.

    But some progress towards safer and smarter guns is being made. In December, New Jersey became the first state to require manufacturers to build guns that can only be fired by their legitimate owner - though this will not come into force until 3 years after the state determines that such technology is commercially viable. The police are enthusiastic backers of this technology, seeing it as a way of ensuring that stolen guns are not used against them.

    There are two main components to personalised weapons: sensors that determine who is holding the gun, and a mechanism to prevent the weapon from firing when an unauthorised person is holding it. This would make it impossible for children to use such guns and could prevent the thousands of deaths inflicted with stolen weapons. "They become unmarketable," says Eric Gorovitz, policy director for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington DC. Personalisation "transforms them from guns into rocks", he says.

    Gun maker Colt has developed a prototype gun that transmits a radio frequency signal to a tag worn by the user. On receiving the signal, the tag transmits its identity to the gun, which releases an internal electromagnetic lock and allows it to be fired.

    Such "proximity sensors" have their limitations. They are useless inside people's homes, says Donald Sebastian, head of the personalised weapons technology project at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. "In the home environment, [the tag] is probably going to be shoved in the drawer with the gun. It's tantamount to leaving the key in the front-door lock."

    Electronic spark

    To address this, Sebastian and his colleagues have developed a biometric system that is activated when someone grabs a gun. They found each person's grip has a unique profile, determined by the envelope of their hand, the length of the individual segments of their fingers, and the pressure each of these segments exerts. Sensors on the gun's grip can be programmed to recognise the profile of the person authorised to use the weapon.

    So far, the team has only produced prototypes linked to a computer, rather than a real gun. And crucially, no one knows if a person's grip remains recognisable at all times, especially when they are panicked. Sebastian is confident the technology can be made to work, and the necessary hardware shrunk into a microchip and fitted into a normal handgun. But the project is languishing for lack of funds. "We don't have the dollars to put into commercial development," says Sebastian.

    One commercial development that could ease the move towards personalised weapons is the electronic gun made in Australia by Metal Storm of Brisbane. In place of a mechanical firing mechanism, these weapons detonate their rounds using an electronic spark. Combining electronic ballistics with biometrics could be a sure way to enforce personalisation, says Sebastian. Ballistic fingerprinting could also help police track down guns used in a shooting.

    However, guns are designed to injure and kill, so a "safe" gun will always be a contradiction in terms. And many people, especially the gun lobby, have always argued that it is not guns that kill, but the people that pull the trigger. It's an argument someone like Brandon Maxfield may find hard to accept. Nine years ago, when he was just 7 years old, Maxfield was accidentally shot by a babysitter, and is now a quadriplegic. On 7 May this year, a jury in California held the gun maker responsible and awarded Maxfield more than $50 million in compensation. The gun's design was faulty, the jury found, because the babysitter could not unload the weapon without first disengaging the safety catch. That ruling has been hailed as a landmark by gun-control advocates, but will mean little if Congress exempts manufacturers from further similar claims.

    And unless changes are made to the design of guns, such accidents will continue. This year Richard Ismach and colleagues at the Center for Injury Control at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, Atlanta, found that 32 per cent of unintended shootings in the US are caused by deficiencies in gun design (Annals of Emergency Medicine, vol 41, p 10). They say such injuries, which kill over 800 people each year including 150 children, could be prevented if all new handguns incorporated basic safety features. And whatever the gun lobby may say, most gun owners seem to agree. A National Opinion Research Survey cited by Ismach's team suggests that 59 per cent of them say that all guns should be personalised.

    Anil Ananthaswamy, San Francisco
  2. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 26, 2002
    :barf: Neither science or news...
  3. cslinger

    cslinger Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Nashville, TN
    Why is it so hard for people to understand that you will not stop homocides or suicides by implementing any technology what-so-ever. Sure technology might prevent the accidental use of a firearm from time to time but let's face facts most firearms are pretty safe and reliable tools as far as tools themselves go. You can't mitigate stupidity with technology....nor should you try.

    C....let's take the warning labels off of everything....slinger.:D
  4. Nathaniel Firethorn

    Nathaniel Firethorn Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Exit 8A, Peoples' Republic of Corzinistan
    First sensible word I've heard from an anti on the subject of "smart" guns.

    - pdmoderator
  5. JohnBT

    JohnBT Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    Richmond, Virginia
    I don't have time for nonsense and the author's statements are mostly just that. The statement that mental illness is a public health crisis that has been "...tackled with...vigour..." is pure and simple nonsense.

    I worked with mental health patients/clients/cases before they emptied the state hospitals in the 1980s and I still do. The mental health workers try their best, but the system has not tackled the crisis with "vigour" in any way, shape or form.

    Who is this guy and why should anyone believe his conclusions?

    John...yup, my guns must be defective...they've never hurt anyone.
  6. Art Eatman

    Art Eatman Administrator Staff Member

    Dec 22, 2002
    Terlingua, TX; Thomasville,GA

    Not just remedial thinking is needed for the author: Remedial spelling as well. Or do we now have anti-gun homophobics?

    :D, Art
  7. gun-fucious

    gun-fucious Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    centre of the PA
    the VPC fears personalized weapon technology because it will increase the number of gunowners.

    consider this:

    Harry and Harriet Homeowner buy a GeeWiz 2006 9mm smart gun.
    Where do they buy it?

    a gun store

    Where do they shoot it?

    a gun range

    What does Harry see being shot by that nice guy in lane 4?

    a Glock

    Now ask yerself this:
    How many gun owners do you know with only one gun?

    on the next vist Harry & Harriet rent a glock and a colt 45

    3 months later, they buy an AR15

  8. CZ-75

    CZ-75 member

    Jan 2, 2003
    The New Scientist is the National Enquirer for scientists. All the way from Merry Olde Englande - guess their bias?
  9. Duncan Idaho

    Duncan Idaho member

    Jun 12, 2003
    The early years of WWIII
    "In other news, Eve has asked Adam to develop so called 'smart rock' technology, in order to eliminate any possibility of future fratricide." :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

    Fruitcake leftist dimwits :barf:
  10. KC

    KC Member

    May 22, 2003
    "Firearms are now the second biggest cause of injury-related death in the country"

    BS! hospitals kill 8-10 times that number every year thru accidental under- over-, and misdosage. Do you hear about that once a month on the news?

  11. Standing Wolf

    Standing Wolf Member in memoriam

    Dec 24, 2002
    Idahohoho, the jolliest state
    Wrong! I never leave the house without a gun for the sake of my health.
  12. saddenedcitizen

    saddenedcitizen Member

    Jun 27, 2003
    Uh - I don't think so

    "They become unmarketable," says Eric Gorovitz, policy director for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington DC. Personalisation "transforms them from guns into rocks"

    Not hardley.
    WHATEVER is used (ring, palm print, key card) to 'render' the gun useless will be 'bypassed' quickly.
    Micro circutry is neither expensive nor difficult to obtain and there WILL be a black market for 'bypass' devices. These people are just a bit too in awe of cute little electronic devices. End of that silly argument/assumption.
    If this tecnology is so wonderful, let the LEO's 'test' it first.
    Personally, I don't trust electronics this much, (certainly NOT with my life. One of the reasons I absolutely WILL NOT fly on an Airbus.
    2nd problem - product liability. THe FIRST LEO/person/whatever killed or maimed because of a 'failure' and the manufacturer will be sued out of business quickly.
    As for the age range of the victims in the article, gee, doesn't that match pretty close to the 'gang involvement' age range ??
    I think gang members should be given ANY weapon they want, put all of them in an isolated area and let them kill each other off.
  13. Monkeyleg

    Monkeyleg Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    Decatur, AL
    "Some simple technological safeguards, such as an indicator to show whether the chamber is loaded, invented 100 years ago, are still not universal on handguns."

    Actually, the technology was developed millions of years ago. It's called an eyeball.
  14. Guy B. Meredith

    Guy B. Meredith Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    Salem, Oregon
    No microcircuitry or anything else is needed to bypass all those delicately adjusted sensors. The final ingition is two wires and everything else is just a fancy switch. Anyone with 6th grade education knows about shorting wires or putting in a new set of wires directly to the battery.

    The personalization device is what will end up being an unmarketable rock attached to an otherwise operable firearm.


    My letter to them:

    Public health issue? Life saving technology? You're kidding, right? Very unscientific evaluation of information at best.

    Lessee, if we pull the handle of this sensor gilded handgun an' cross these two little wires right here we get--a spark! Wow! Now why would anyone want to go through all the expense of buying and manipulating all those silly little sensors to get the same results?

    And ten year old steals that pretty firearm of Daddy's and takes this little drill and drills out that funny little lock thing... Just need a little time and opportunity to overcome ANY personalizing device.

    The only sure safety device is a responsible owner.

    The fact that people are injured with misuse of firearms does not constitute a public health issue. It constitutes a public behavior issue. Sort of like putting on the brakes and being courteious while driving eliminates injury and death.
  15. rrader

    rrader member

    Apr 22, 2003
    Northern Virginia
    The article is a good reminder of the fact that 78.632%(1) of statistics are made up on the spot.

    1. RRader, "The Use of Phony Statistics in Made-Up Journal Articles," Journal of Bogus Statistics, Vol. 2, pp. 184-198, 7/2003, University of East Dakota Press, Pub.
  16. JackShandy

    JackShandy Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    Wherever I go, there I am...
    I guess the guns design also prevented her from not having it in her hands in the first place, prevented her from keeping her finger off the trigger, and also prevented her from keeping it pointed in a safe direction. Can anyone point me to the original story; I'd like to know, among other things, why she had the gun in the first place.

    One other thing; are we the only nation to award outrageously large cash settlements for other peoples stupidity?
  17. tyme

    tyme Member

    Dec 19, 2002
    People will say just about anything when they're looking for investments. I'm confident an artificial life-supporting environment/ecosystem can be constructed on Mars. All I need is a few hundred billion dollars... for initial research...
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