By Stephen Bryen
Instead of new draconian gun laws of dubious effect, consider the ubiquitous E-Z pass.
Like millions of other Americans, I pay a small monthly fee for my handy E-Z Pass transponder. It gets me through toll booths on highways, bridges and tunnels quickly and efficiently; it crosses State lines without interruption. For the most part, the E-Z Pass billing system is accurate and gives you a helpful record of your travels.
The E-Z Pass is a passive sensor, actually a transceiver activated by a radio signal from the toll booth or toll lane. The transceiver operates at 915 mhz and transmits information at 500 kilobits per second. No battery or other power source is needed. The specific E-Z Pass technology is proprietary, but transceivers for other applications have already been built. Today, RFID (radio frequency identification) devices are inserted into credit cards, building passes, garage gate openers, and Metro fare cards, to name just a few applications.
Can this technology be applied to guns and how would it work?
Putting RFID sensors into manufactured guns and tagging them to the owner is in fact simpler than the E-Z Pass system, because the sensor can be embedded at the time of manufacture or, for guns already in circulation, can be added at a very small cost. Putting antennas around schools, colleges, hospitals, sports stadiums (for example) and public buildings is not complex. Linking the sensors to existing security systems also is reasonably straightforward and not expensive.
Consider this. A person with a gun approaches an elementary school. If the school perimeter contained RFID antennas, they could detect the gun, automatically lock down the school, and warn school personnel that there is a potential threat.
Consider this. At the entrance of the State Department there is a security check that includes an RFID antenna to find a gun. Even if the gun is hidden or the magnetometer cannot not find it, it is likely the RFID antenna will detect it.
Consider this. At the entrances to the Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey, there are RFID antennas. If someone enters the mall with a gun, the security guards are immediately alerted. The detectors are linked to PTZ (pan tilt zoom) cameras that can track the likely gun holder.
RFID technology can buy a lot of protection. It can be implemented quickly in new guns and existing registered guns. It is low cost.
In fact an Italian company called Chiappa Firearms has already introduced RFID chips in all its new guns. While their press release is in Italian (http://www.tiropratico.com/Cinzia_Pinzoni/RFID_chiappa.pdf) they say that the chips are virtually indestructible and that they can be read by remote detectors in microseconds.
Putting protection around schools, for example, compliments existing security systems and procedures and can be done quickly and probably within existing security and infrastructure budgets.
But isn’t the problem illegal guns? Illegal guns are a major crime problem, but — as we just saw tragically in Newtown — legal guns are often the ones used in incidents such as school shootings, work places attacks, and shootings in public access places or events. For the most part, schools, colleges, malls, work places, and public buildings have only limited, or no defenses against legal or illegal guns, with the preponderance of crime they experience coming from legal guns.
Thirty years ago, I served as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Trade and Security Policy, and Director of the Defense Technology Security Administration. Our offices became concerned with Glock pistols that were being made of synthetic polymers (a type of plastic). The problem was that the “plastic” Glock might not be recognized by metal detectors or X-Ray machines in airports or in secure buildings. The answer, which the Glock people accepted, was to add some metal powder to the plastic so the gun shape could be seen in an X-Ray machine and picked up by a metal detector.
The RFID tag is a modern evolution of the Glock idea, but with the advantage that it can provide early warning of danger.
In the coming months, the President and Congress are poised to consider new gun laws in response to the multi-victim tragedies of our recent past. Many of the ideas currently advanced sound draconian, may violate the Second Amendment, and are unlikely to reduce violence committed with legally registered weapons. An E-Z Pass-type solution wouldn’t reduce the likelihood of a violent attempt being undertaken by a mentally unbalanced or otherwise disturbed person, but it could very well protect innocent people from victimhood.
Dr. Stephen Bryen is President of SDB Partners, LLC based in Washington, DC