This post strays a bit from the usual topics covered here, nonetheless I wanted to share candid ideas about digital opportunities applied to an important public issue…
What if everyone was missing the forest for the trees? What if the debate surrounding guns in the USA was stuck in the 20th century? What if, instead of gun control, a dated concept, we thought in a novel and 21st century like manner about gun architecture?
The firearms industry in the USA is another of these mammoths having a lot of entrenched interests and connections with policy decision makers like the defense industry, the music industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol industry, the food industry and all those that also lobby Congress for looser regulations and clear paths to do as they please to maximise their profits. After all this is all but fair game; economic actors look to fare as well as they may in a free market economy. However it falls to the Government to establish public regulations frameworks that aim to reach a state of balance between the interests of society, citizens and consumers and the interests of corporations. This is precisely why the FDA oversees the pharmaceutical industry, why the SEC is supposed to rein in devious habits by the finance industry, why the FCC oversees the broadcast media and telecoms industries or why the ATF tries to ensure that the commerce of firearms follows certain principles. Nonetheless one can only see that traditional ways of regulating the firearms industry have thus far failed to find the right balance between a constitutional right and the necessary civil peace that modern societies should yearn for.
With this equation in mind, I started thinking about the peculiar regulatory mix that has come to be with the advent of the digital world, one where Law is not the only Law, where, as Lawrence Lessig brilliantly put it more than 10 years ago, Code is Law. In such a world – and such is the world we now live in – the rights we have as citizens or consumers may be enforced through the blueprints of goods and services. When you download a song with DRM (digital rights management) features, such as one from iTunes, what you can do with it is strictly delimited and at the same time enforced by the technical architecture thereof, notably the limited number and types of devices on which the song can be played. When you buy an iPhone, the software (apps) you can download and use are only available through Apple’s App Store and have to follow strict technical and content-related (e.g. no pornography) guidelines. Although there is a “black market” for apps, known in the iPhone world as the jailbreak, a vast majority of users had rather stick to the quasi-bother-free legitimate version of iOS, the iPhone’s operating system. In addition, and more interestingly for the matter at hand, an iPhone can even be deactivated remotely in case it has been lost or stolen – in the latter instance the architecture designed by Apple supplements the law and makes it more efficient.
Going back to the various regulated industries, it may be time to make some of them implement such DRM features in their hardware and software to ensure that the public interest and the private interests are balanced. Ironically DRMs were initially sought after by the music industry in the face of a growing peer to peer market for free MP3 songs; in other words they were called to the rescue by private interests to fight consumers off. Maybe the time has come for citizens to call DRMs to the rescue to fight off violent and unwarranted uses of firearms.
What if every gun and rifle sold in the US (or in the world for that matter) came equipped with DRMs that would limit who could use them, where and when they could be used? Imagine that guns were all connected with an ID database stored in the cloud (easily feasible) where the rights different profiles of users had on different guns were recorded, this could for instance lead to the following scenarios:
- Only law enforcement officers could be allowed to “turn on” firearms near or inside schools;
- Individuals having been convicted of crimes or misdemeanors would not be unable to “turn on” firearms;
- Each firearm in the database may be associated to a limited number of users only, so that children could not to “turn on” their parents’ firearms or that adult citizens could only use firearms they would have officially registered in their names in the database;
- In times of peace, citizens would only be allowed to “turn on” their firearms at specific locations, such as in or around their own houses that they need to protect;
- Soldiers and certain law enforcement officers would be the only ones allowed to “turn on” assault rifles;
- A gun reported stolen or lost would be blocked and tracked.
I don’t know if such a gun architecture scheme could be easily implemented; I certainly don’t know if it would be upheld by courts in the face of a 2nd amendment to the US Constitution that was drafted to ensure the Government had some legitimate fear of its sovereign, the citizens, and that its foreign enemies were kept at bay; but I’m thinking this would be worth a try…