A third way in gun debate

Some of the 1,337 guns turned in during a two-day gun buyback program in Camden County last month.
Some of the 1,337 guns turned in during a two-day gun buyback program in Camden County last month. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 09, 2013

We have to move away from the divisive "guns or no guns" debate to avert a cycle of senseless violence. Vice President Biden and his new task force on gun violence should consider the long-term potential of new technology to address the problem.

We have tried a variety of approaches, including background checks under the Brady bill, the assault-weapons ban, increased police protection, and public awareness campaigns. These options may have temporarily or partly addressed the problem, but none have worked well. It's time to be open to new ideas.

The violence has not only cost lives; it's also had a wrenching impact on our social fabric and quality of life. Few stable societies suffer from the kind of individual-generated, apolitical massacres we see on a regular basis. And yet we have not considered them a major "homeland security" threat or devoted significant resources to prevention.

With about 280 million guns in the country and counting, we have to tap into our inventive and competitive strengths to protect our most vulnerable spaces. When we have recognized a major national security risk in the past, we have shown the ability to muster the scientific and financial resources to do so - from computer viruses to disable Iran's nuclear program to the Patriot system shielding the nation against missile attacks. Why not make sure semiautomatic weapons in the wrong hands are equally neutralized?

How could we explore new ways to do so? We could look to the federal government to assess promising technological solutions, but that could prove costly, time-consuming, and possibly ineffective.

A better option would be to engage the private sector, with sponsorship by both the public and private sectors. The incentive for participants would be that likely solutions would be assured significant public and private financing. And a constructive, competitive environment could stimulate the new thinking we need. In essence, this would be a marketplace of ideas to address a national security problem.

The result could stretch science and tap the imagination. Perhaps "electronic fences" around schools, hospitals, and other locations could disarm any weapon brought inside. Certain firearms might be required to contain computer chips that could be activated from afar by authorities. Or guns could be equipped to recognize the owner's finger on the trigger. These are just examples of the possibilities that might emerge.

Such technological solutions could avoid any infringement on Second Amendment rights, because gun ownership would not be their focus.

If we can move beyond preconceived notions for dealing with this issue, we will find new ones. Biden and his task force should be open to that possibility.

Richard Seifman is a retired human development specialist who has worked for the World Bank and the U.S. Foreign Service. He can be reached at rseifman@yahoo.com.

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