How to solve gun violence? A designer’s perspective.
Could we start to control guns?
Although the news on gun violence and topics related to this are of little to no importance to a non American citizen like myself. I as an interaction designer find the subject fascinating and designing a permanent solution to this would be challenging but surely doable. The recent tragedies in the United States have stirred up old subjects of gun control, games & violence and the need of guns in a household yet again.
I’m completely neutral on this subject, I could side myself with those wanting to have a gun stored safely around their home for the protection of their family, even if their argument is that they are afraid of “an invasion” of any kind. If owning a gun makes you sleep comfortably at night by all means, be a responsible owner of a firearm. But I could also side myself with those providing arguments for the fact that if nobody can legally purchase any gun, the number of deaths caused by guns will drop by a vast amount.
Now a complete ban on guns is never going to happen, simply because the trade of small arms and ammunition has steadily grown from being a quarter billion dollar market annually to being a half-billion dollar market in the United States of America alone since 2001. These businesses have thrived after 9/11 & the war on terrorism and Iraq. Not to mention that a financial crisis always goes hand in hand with an increase in crimes, owning a firearm becomes the logical form of self protection.
Could a gun control us?
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” is the famous slogan used by the NRA (National Rifle Association). It is pretty obvious that a gun doesn’t fire by itself, there is something or someone that triggers it to fire. Put a gun in the hands of a irresponsible and mentally unstable person and anything can happen.
The keyword here is “irresponsible”, we are responsible, we are the factor that changes a gun from being a passive object made out of metals and other materials into an accurate ranged killing mechanic. So the way we interact with a gun is what makes it deadly.
Over the last decades my profession has looked into how we interact with pretty much any technology and how they fit in our lives, so why not take a closer look at how we interact with guns? What if a gun was designed differently? Could we reduce the number of crimes where guns are used in the murder of innocent lives by simple changes in the design?
Targeting the right problem: “Should I be allowed to fire a gun here?”
Around the internet you see the topic and discussion of smart guns, which are guns where by the use of biometrics and recognition of a persons grip or fingerprint the gun is limited to only be fired by the owner of the gun. But this technology doesn’t change the ability to buy a gun, own it, and fire it ANYWHERE including a public space with innocent people. In other words, the problem remains to exist. This is mostly a geographical problem, a gun used in someone’s own home, can be self defense towards burglars or assault. A gun used at a shooting range or the woods, can be purely recreational thrill seeking. But I don’t think anyone can give one good reason for a full automatic assault rifle inside a shopping mall, school, cinema or on a street.
We can measure our locations with modern technology, our phones give rather accurate geolocations based on signal triangulation and or GPS coordinates. This could be implemented in a gun itself, but why not connect our guns to our smart phones? It is probably much cheaper, and a smart phone is usually owned and registered to a single person too. Here in the Netherlands for having a data plan with my phone provider they ask for a copy of my passport or ID containing my social security number, now I imagine if I were to purchase a gun they should ask me for my ID or passport so that this gun can be registered to me, under that very same number. Now I’m sure technology allows for us to connect a gun to a phone via Bluetooth and that it should be rather cheap to do so.
We could implement biometric measurements to recognize who is aiming the gun and block firing ability based on his or her ID. But these expensive sensors in the gun itself are not exactly needed, because why not simply ID the gun to be linked to your and cellphone, prompt the gun user on his phone to enter a security code to unlock the rifle, this could be a code given with the gun, or code given by the gun owner themselves. This would serve as a PIN code, so even if the gun + phone both get taken by someone that doesn’t “own” the gun it stays blocked from usage because he or she doesn’t know the PIN code.
Now if this PIN code is correct it will then determine if the gun’s geolocation is “fit” for unlocking the firing mechanic, this could be for instance their own home, a shooting range or in the wild. It would allow for blocking the firing ability when the gun is transported between these validated locations or for example is carried inside into public spaces.
I created a diagram of how this app would function.
Probably the most common scenario and most feared one is where someone is assaulted in their own home. Now when there is a burglary or assault taking place these are the first steps one should take, they should lock themselves in a secure room that serves as an extra barrier between them and the intruding people, then the second step should be taking out your phone to call 911. In my application this is automatically done for you, at this moment you’re grabbing for your gun! This is serious business, and requires immediate assistance by law enforcement. Your phone prompts you for the security code to use your gun, after this clears out with the server, you’re locked and loaded. In this scenario where there clearly is an emergency taking place, the phone starts an audio recording, by doing this, law enforcement can be kept up to date of progression in the situation while approaching your GPS coordinates and it can later serve as evidence in cases where pulling the trigger was deemed necessary, when that is? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer. But what I can say is that in this situation everyone involved is accounted for. Even the attacker is protected from any trigger happy citizens through the creation of an audio record. We could probably even make it so that based on where guns are located, law enforcement could overwrite any firing ability of guns within a certain range in other words they could disarm any armed attackers before they are even close to the crime location.
Several horrific events of this kind have taken place in the recent months, where in the most common scenario a young man gets his hands on a full automatic rifle with a bunch of large capacity magazines, who has deliberately planned a scenario where he starts firing on innocent civilians in a public space of some sort. Now with this application it would be extremely difficult for this gun to be fired in any public area if not close to impossible. The GPS coordinates or an accurate triangulation of the shooters phone would give away his location and will automatically block any firing of this gun if this area is deemed to be a public space. I believe a solution like this could save many lives in situations like these.
There is still work to be done…
As this is a design that could make a difference between life and death in certain situations, it is very important to look into the flaws of the design. I mean most likely the system has security holes, where one could maybe hack their phone to fake the GPS locations. Or what happens if the user is not connected to any internet and therefor not connected to the server? How quickly can a user get their gun to be in firing mode? It should all be tested and researched, but that research would surely beat the 10 million dollar requested by President Obama to be spent on the research of the influence of games on violence. Personally I really wonder how they plan on testing this, and where the results actually have a meaning.
I hereby end this blog post, if you enjoyed this article or have your own ideas and suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments.