The future of guns and technology, and a twist on the gun control debate

While sitting in my office yesterday, unable to leave until sometime in the afternoon due to the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard a block away, I thought about guns and technology.

Specifically, I had this thought- over time, guns have gotten more effective and more powerful. Now we have handheld weapons that can kill more people faster and more effectively than in the past.

Assuming this trend continues, handheld weapons of the future may be able to destroy a car with one shot, or perhaps even a building. If we get to Star Trek phaser level of handheld weaponry, one gun could destroy a small town with a few shots. At this point the question of “how do you stop one man with a gun” becomes pretty silly and/or scary.

So why is this relevant? No one (that I know of) believes that individuals should be able to own nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. And on the other side, no one (that I know of) is arguing that people should not have the right to own weapons like knives, clubs, sticks, stones, etc. So taking that into account, the question, even between the most extreme views on either side of the gun control debate, is not “should it be legal for an individual to own a weapon”, but rather “how effective/powerful of a weapon should it be legal for an individual to own”. I believe just about everybody is answering that question when they discuss gun control- even if they don’t think so at the time.

Different people and different countries answer this question differently. The US government answers it (with some variations by locality) something like “in general, individuals should have the right to own non-automatic firearms with a bore of less than 1.5 inches”. Canada (IIRC) answers it “in general, individuals should have the right to own shotguns and rifles suitable for hunting” with some more details. I’m sure various European countries run the spectrum from allowing most firearms to no firearms, but all allow ownership of tools like knives and hammers, though some may outlaw weapons like swords and crossbows.

I think it’s useful to think about it this way because then it really is a “shades-of-grey” question, rather than black and white. We’re all just staking out a position on the spectrum from allowing knives to allowing anti-aircraft guns and phasers, rather than arguing whether or not to allow people to own weapons. It doesn’t really seem that way because handheld weapons are only so powerful now, but in the future it might be the only way to look at the issue.

“Your right to bear arms stops over here by me” seems plausible enough. The 2nd Amendment doesn’t say 'fire’arms.
So any kind of knife, sword, stick, nunchaku might be allowed, but not bows or slingshots or guns.

I don’t know. I don’t think personal-level gun technology has advanced much since the WW1/WW2 days. I mean, after you advanced to semi-automatic cartridge ammunition, it was basically small evolutions on existing designs. After the US switched to the M16, it’s rifles “Evolved” but don’t do much better in terms of “Deliver slug to target”. Accuracy and reliability of the weapon has increased which does help you hit a target, but outside of “hitting” the target it doesn’t add the the lethality of the round.

There have been improvements to sighting, scoping, and carry design (and onboard computers and such), but not the actual basics of delivering lethality.

In terms of how much damage a gun could actually do, there is a limit to what you can deliver with a hand-held weapon. There comes a point where firing a gun will be physically improbable, even if that’s only because you can’t contain the recoil from the gun. As an example, most of the advanced sniper rifles that can go a long distance should not be fired from the shoulder.

With that limit in mind, delivering a slug from a hand-held weapon has an upper limit of potential damage. You can add some damage to the equation by using various types of slugs (hollow tips, armor piercing) based on your intended target, but it doesn’t increase the damage significantly. So i think it would be improbable that we would have a hand-held method to shoot and destroy something like a car. Stop it from operating (hit the block) yes, but not destroy it.

Moving to the future, if we do manage to design hand-held laser weaponry I also think there’s an upper limit to how much damage you can do. Even if we assume that we have a useful energy storage for this in a hand-held package (like Star Trek) the laser beam would still be fairly small, and it would take time to work.

Let’s assume the maximum handgun caliber (0.5) is your laser beam’s diameter. Instead of delivering a “Bullet” to the target that physically impacts and releases all of it’s kinetic energy into the target, you’d have a laser beam that impacts the target and has to burn away (in the case of a person) clothes, skin, bone/cartilege, organs, more bone, and then out the other side. And if the target went “OW!” when his clothes or skin caught on fire, all he’d get is a small burn as you wouldn’t be able to focus on a small enough spot for long enough to get into the fatal stage.

If you conceivable have a hand-held unlimited energy supply and all of your laser parts can do this, you could *potentially *run a laser that would eat through you quickly enough to be fatal, but that is fairly far out there. I would think it’s too advanced to hope for anytime soon.

So your position is that the word “arms,” as it appears in the Second Amendment, does not mean “firearms?”

But the word “speech,” as it appears in the First Amendment, includes burning a flag, and the word “press,” includes a Linux server running Apache and Tomcat and serving up a blog?

That seems like a corrupt method of analysis to me.

I’m saying one might argue that, I’m not saying it’s my personal belief or that I’m going to spend much energy on it.
It doesn’t say firearms, to says arms, and right to bear them does stop over here by me. So that’s an argument that projectile weapons might plausibly be forbidden.

This is a very good question-How powerful can a handheld weapon be and still be considered as covered under the 2nd Amendment? What if it is designed to kill more than one person at a time per projectile, or what if we consider a theoretical “phaser” type of weapon?

When you say designed can you clarify: Is a gun that fires a projectile that happens to be able to go through two people with one shot considered “designed to” or “capable of”?

In the second case, we’d have to get rid of pretty much any firearm capable of hunting large game, as killing a deer/elk takes more power than killing a human. In the first case, it’s not “designed” for shooting at humans, but it certainly can be used for that.

In the case of a theoretical phaser-type device, assuming the military developed it first (And not, say, Black & Decker) it would probably stay a military secret for awhile. Then, after the secrecy time period wears out (50 years? 60?) it would quite rapidly infiltrate civilian life. It’s a device that would be able to clear debris (disaster recovery, waste disposal), drill a well (construction), level land for paving (more construction), cut minerals out of a rock face (mining), or any number of other scenarios where it would be a useful tool.

How would you regulate something with that many other uses than “Death”? Just give it to FEMA? Just give it to certain construction companies (ensuring a monopoly)? Regulate it like dynamite?

At that point it would be probably be regarded more like a motor vehicle: A tool that everyone has that causes death and destruction, but which society says is useful enough to keep around.

So is your answer no to the question of whether a handheld weapon can be considered too powerful to be covered by the 2nd Amendment?

I could argue that full-automatic weapons aren’t covered by the 2nd. :slight_smile:

Phasers are WMDs if used inappropriately, I don’t see why regulation is impossible.

I could argue that ONLY military arms such as full auto guns are covered by the 2nd.

Considered by whom? Considering that ‘looking scary’ has been a criteria for banning guns in certain areas of the country, it’s all going to depend on who is considering…and what position they are in to carry through their consideration into law.

From a pure 2nd Amendment perspective, there aren’t any limits or definition of what is meant by ‘arms’. The limitations have come from legislature and regulations, not the 2nd itself. Things like local bans on firearms, restrictions on types of weapons available to the public and restrictions on automatic weapons all come from those sources (and attempts to re-interpret the 2nd), not the 2nd itself. And future restrictions or bans will come from the same source, unless someone actually tries to get rid of the amendment using the process inherent in our system to remove the things.

You’d be surprised. Not only are there people arguing that, they’re not even on “the other side”. From what I’ve heard, the state of Texas does not allow carrying of knives larger than some size, and the Republican National Convention last year tried to ban clubs.

By the people responding to the question posed in this thread, of course, coupled with their reasons for thinking so if they wish. I see your point about any restrictions having to come from somewhere other than the 2nd Amendment itself.

Honestly I don’t see how you’ll get a meaningful answer from the people in this thread, since it’s going to break down along the lines of banner, advocates and perhaps fence sitters as to what they think the restrictions should be or should not be. Firearms power hasn’t really substantially changed in quite a long time. Most of the ammunition types used have been the same ones used for decades…hell, in some cases over a century. The only variable would be the number of grains in the charge, and that hasn’t substantially increased. The only changes to guns today over guns in the past is the continued use of lighter composites (that also look scary, being black and all), refinements of the actions in some cases to make the guns more reliable and less prone to misfire…IOW, incremental changes that make the guns more efficient, durable and less prone to jamming and misfire and the like. Other than that there really hasn’t been any substantial change, especially in the guns available to the general public. Even military guns haven’t changes, say, their rates of fire substantially…they have just become lighter, more ergonomic (and scary of course), more reliable, etc etc. Small refinements and incremental changes.

So, the issue is where do you sit on the ‘should we ban them or should there be an automatic weapon in every pot’ continuum discussion.

Nobody here is talking about scary-looking guns, and it probably won’t come up again unless you keep bringing it up. Let’s drop that strawman, o.k.?

Your pigeonholing everyone into “banners, advocates and fence-sitters” aside, the issue is what the OP says the issue is as far as I’m concerned. I’m sorry if the nuance is too much for you to handle.

The problem, for me, with phasers is that if you have a phaser, you have a massive supply of energy in a container that fits in the palm of your hand. The phaser assembly itself is just redirecting it as a coherent energy/laser/plasma beam in some fashion.

But the real danger of having that much energy at your disposal still exists. How is this energy stored? Can you make it explode? What can you do with it outside of the phaser? Because while the “phaser” components might get regulated, I doubt that the battery it uses will (Smartphones that only need to be recharged every couple of decades in the size/volume of a C-Cell? Sign me up.)

Heck, you could be incredibly lethal with just slapping that battery into something that electrocutes people.

Please clarify “powerful” in the context of firearms? “Capable of” killing more than one person? “Designed to” kill more than one person? Ratio of propellant to weight (i.e. velocity)? Range? All of these are imperfect, because the same things that would ostensibly be for legal purposes (hunting, self defense…okay maybe not “Range” for self-defense) are also the things that make them suitable for criminal activity.

Clearly something outlandish like a phaser would conceivably be too much power (as would the battery it uses) but that’s harder to tie into the real world firearm debate.

If you are looking for a hard and fast rule to keep as many people as safe as possible, I’d destroy the economy with a single sentence: “Anything powerful enough to explode with enough force to propel shrapnel into a person lethally that can be carried by a person. Military is the only exemption.”

We’d ban bullets, obviously (have all the guns you want, though!). And dynamite. And aerosol cans. And fertilizers. And gasoline. And some household cleaners. Orange peels (limonene). The list would just go on.

Let’s go with the latter-the former obviously can’t be realistically defined. What about a handheld weapon that is specifically designed to kill more than one person at a time?

It’s not a strawman argument (I’m not setting up a dummy argument to bat down, which is what a strawman is), even if we are only supposed to use statements in this thread. At most it’s a sarcastic label of real world criteria that ARE used to arbitrarily ban types of guns based on how they look…which is as arbitrary and ill defined as ‘powerful’.

Do you understand what the word ‘continuum’ means? Yes, everyone is pigeonholed into somewhere between folks who want to out and out ban guns, people who want there to be no restrictions, and everyone in-between. Sorry if I missed the nuanced folks who don’t know what guns are (the continuum would even encompass folks who don’t care).

I note with amusement that you are nitpicking my post without actually trying to address anything I said there. Funny, that.

For example, a taser designed to propel multiple lines in, say, a 15 to 20 degree arc, with enough of a charge to stop a heart.

Wouldn’t that include a shotgun using buckshot? There is already the control of sawed off shotguns, which allows for a wider spread of rounds across a room. It was the sawed off shotgun that triggered the Miller case (and it is too bad that one was not completed - Miller’s attorney just needed to provide evidence to the Supremes that a sawed off shotgun had value as a “arm” for the militia - since it was a common enough weapon in the trenches of WW1 - that evidence would have been easy to gain).

Close to the OP - firearms have not improved in lethality, just in reliability. Right now the law appears to distinguish between arms (things that go bang) and ordnance (things that go boom). A re-write of the OP might be - what do we do with the line between a bullet and a grenade gets blurry due to new tech.

I assume that exploding rounds are already controlled as ordnance (and I welcome corrections). If we get to some sort of a new type of tech in weapons that allows me to adjust a dial to switch from “shoot” to “blow-up” - I could see that being under review at the Supremes.