Could RFID Help Improve Gun Control?

By RFID Journal

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Ask The ExpertsCould RFID Help Improve Gun Control?
RFID Journal Staff asked 15 years ago

With the recent tragedies of gun violence, could an active RFID tag be applied to a firearm so that, when transported from its owner's residence, the weapon could be identified by law enforcement?

Since the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided citizens have the absolute right to possess a handgun in their residence, the issue becomes regulation and control outside the home. If it were required that an active RFID tag be a permanent part of a lawful firearm for transport, I believe law enforcement agents could identify that weapon from a distance of, say, 1,000 feet—is that correct?

In Pennsylvania, you can lawfully transport a firearm outside a residence, but only to and from a hunting ground, target range or firearms dealer. The tragedy in Pittsburgh occurred because law enforcement personnel had no idea what they were confronting. Likewise, law enforcement should be able to anticipate the danger posed when responding to an incident in a residence. Or, they should have a way to monitor the lawful transportation of firearms to and from a residence, and respond to suspicious movements on public highways.

Could RFID technology provide a method for legislators to assist law enforcement personnel, while at the same time assure the lawful use and ownership of firearms?

—Samuel, Pittsburgh, Penn.


Dear Samuel,

That is an interesting and very relevant question. Sig Sauer, which manufactures the majority of handguns used by law enforcement agencies, has worked on a means of tagging guns so the agencies can track weapons moving into and out of their armories (see Gunning for Chang). But that is a short-range technology, and would not work for the application you describe.

You are correct that an active tag with a longer read range would be required. But there are some practical issues that would need to be overcome in order to make this solution possible. First, active tags tend to be too large to embed in a gun without affecting the look and feel, and possibly the performance, of that weapon. Another issue is that such tags require batteries, so when a battery dies, the gun to which it is attached would become undetectable. And if you made it possible to replace batteries, criminals could simply remove them to make the guns undetectable by RFID interrogators.

Those issues probably could be overcome. Tag size could be shrunk, and the gun could be designed so it would become inoperable when the tag's battery was removed or died. You could also make it so that only an authorized dealer could replace the battery.

But there are other issues that would be more difficult to resolve. Criminals would discover they could place the guns in metal lockers to prevent their tags from being read outside the home. And tracking weapons in transit would require installing readers on every street, which seems financially non-feasible. I also think law-abiding gun owners might object to the idea that every time they walked out of the house to bring their gun to a shooting range, police would be able to watch them.

My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones in these recent tragedies, and I would love to find a way to prevent future shooting incidents, but I just don't think RFID is the answer. If our readers disagree, we would be happy to read your comments.

—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal

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