Monthly Archives: May 2013

Welcome to the Guns And Big Data Blog

Yesterday, l went over the edge and decided I had to do this. It started with Rachel Maddow the night before, where she went on about the dangers of 3d printed plastic guns and how they should be banned. Ok, Rachel, now the makers are going to side with the gun owners against the liberals.

Since I hail from maker culture, not gun culture, I think this really made it hit home for me. I love Rachel Maddow, but she is a partisan, and like many liberals is willing to use the government to ban and take away liberties and things we currently enjoy. When they talk about banning assault weapons, that impacts the gun people, they see the threat, that overreaching government, trying to solve a different problem, is going to mess up their lives in a misguided attempt to solve that problem. When it came to the idea of the government regulating what can and cannot be fabricated with a 3d printer, then I really saw the threat – that an overreaching government might stifle innovation in a misguided attempt to solve another problem, the problem of violence.

So, maybe I’m not as empathetic as I would like to be, and it took the ugly potential of something that might affect me personally to see the folly of the road we are going down here. I think that’s part of the problem in the gun debate, everyone is just trying to protect their turf, their perspective, and unwilling to see the legitimate points the other side has to offer. On this issue, I’m not comfortable with the arguments I hear coming from liberals who I usually agree with.

The second thing that happened yesterday was a post on a community email list that got me going. I live in Silicon Valley, but in a rural area in the Santa Cruz Mountains. People in this community, like many, have pretty strong views about guns on both sides of the issue. We’re in a generally liberal area of a generally liberal state, but many people in the mountains are a little more conservative and have guns, and with good reason. Grizzlies haven’t been seen in these mountains in 100 years, but there are coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Some people are also concerned the area is not well-served by law enforcement, and simply want a gun to protect themselves. Many people, especially in rural areas, feel like the government-imposed solutions to problems of urban violence are impacting their legitimate acquisition and use of the firearm products they choose, and need for reasonable purposes. I think they are right to be afraid of the “solutions” well-meaning liberals are offering here.

So, a neighbor who I haven’t met(yet…) posts a typical conservative article about guns and violence and how liberals are ruining everything by trying to take away people’s guns. This is the article:

It got me thinking. Where do I really stand on this issue? I stand with the liberals in the sense that I think they are trying to solve a real problem, a problem of gun violence. But I also stand with the conservatives in the sense that the response to gun violence should not be the government trying to take away or deny access to weapons for law-abiding citizens.

I don’t buy the argument that the Second Amendment in its original intent is relevant to this issue at all. You and your little guns are no match for the US government. You will not stop tyranny with your shotgun. If you oppose the US government with force, they will come at you with greater force, and they will win. End of story. Forget it. This is not a rational argument. If you want to look at the real threat of tyranny, it will come from surveillance, robotics, and software that deals with big data – hence this site.

But the Second Amendment is interesting, in that we have an actual constitutional prohibition against the government depriving citizens of a particular type of commodity/device. It should give us all pause, to reflect on the appropriate use of government power and under what circumstances we must ban certain commodities or devices for the public good.

Obviously, I don’t want my neighbor making a nuclear weapon in the garage or leasing out their yard for nuclear waste storage. There are some things that are too dangerous, and really do need to be banned among the general population, lest we all be destroyed by idiot DIYers. But where do you draw the line in the wide range of devices we call guns? Obviously some guns are appropriate for things like hunting, and others are developed and intended for military use, and should really not be in the hands of the general public.

I would say with guns, you do need to draw a line somewhere and ban some devices from the general public. But wherever you draw that line, you will have people getting around it, or making devices that are just as dangerous, but are not addressed by the wording of the law. Then you have the government oppressively nitpicking over what may or may not constitute an “assault weapon,” or whatever term is used to categorize it legally, while the industry figures out ways to keep to the letter of the law while bypassing its intent.

I don’t think this is the right approach to solving this problem. As we can see, our political system is not well-equipped to work out the compromises that would be necessary to implement such gun laws. So, realistically, nothing will happen on this front, other than the two sides shouting at each other.

So what will happen when we keep having more and more horrific incidents of violence as our politicians seem paralyzed to do anything about it? This brings us to the main purpose of – a discussion of how the powers of the surveillance state can and will be used to address issues of gun violence and domestic terrorism. In many ways this is happening already, but it will only grow. Since there is not a lot of public information about specific technologies, we may have to indulge in some speculation. Ideally, it would be nice to have greater transparency and public discussion of our government’s evolving surveillance technology, but that will take public pressure which perhaps this site can help generate.

Why focus on this? Because I don’t see anyone else doing it, and I feel this is a discussion we need to have. When I hear people say you can’t do anything about gun violence without banning guns, I know this is false, because I know something about the power of the surveillance state we currently have. I don’t know why others haven’t put this together, maybe they have and I just haven’t seen it, but I’ll do my part, and try to shed some light on how these issues will evolve as we move into an ever-more connected world, where we must wrestle with technologies that are ever more powerful, pervasive, dangerous, and difficult to understand.