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Guns and the Blockchain




The blockchain could be a potentially robust infrastructure for registering guns across state lines.

Over the past decade, nothing has shaken this country quite like gun violence. Heinous acts like those committed at Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and Orlando have shifted public opinion to consider more practical solutions such as extensive background checks. However, gun ownership still remains a part of the American culture. As recent Gallop Poll data shows, Americans generally still favor gun rights over gun control. Seemingly, Americans’ attitudes toward gun violence has been simple: buy more guns.

In 2016, the Pew Research Center disclosed a survey that showed gun ownership is up to 44%. This is a 7 percent jump from the previous two years. With ownership up, is it possible that gun violence will increase? Hard to tell.

A large number of gun-related incidents are committed by ill-informed or badly trained gun users. In order to mitigate this threat, many states have implemented mandatory safety training programs when purchasing firearms. Yet, America isn’t concerned about good guys with guns. America is more concerned about the bad guys and how they obtain those guns.

A prime example is Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter who legally acquired a military style rifle known as a Sig-Sauer MCX, even though he was placed on the Terrorist Screening Database (TSD) by the FBI in 2013 and 2014. As a result of Mateen’s violence, the American government has considered more oversight on in-place systems like the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) and the TSD (the No Fly list is a subsidiary of the TSD). In order for such a system to work, all states have to be on the same page. Unsurprisingly, not all states are created equal in the push, as it’s easier to purchase a gun in some states than others – especially for purchases from an unlicensed dealer. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, and Colorado rank the top four of the easiest states to purchase a firearm.

States like California, New York, and Hawaii are less attractive to gun purchasers due to tougher laws and stringent requirements for even private gun sales. In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed into effect a series of gun control bills that placed more rigid parameters on California gun owners. One of these bills, Senate Bill 1235, further regulates gun control by using alternative methods. While other bills relate to the purchase of guns, this legislation makes it a requirement for gun shops to collect IDs and administer background checks of gun owners who purchase ammunition. Consequently, all customer data collected will be held in a state-wide database and monitored by the attorney general.

In June of 2016, Gov. David Ige of Hawaii signed SB 2954 (108) making Hawaii the first state to place their gun owners in a database. This database for criminal record monitoring, known as “Rap Back”, is operated by the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) service, and allows for continuous oversight of gun owners by government agencies. Rap Back notifies agencies if any Hawaiian firearm owner is arrested in the country - whether for a felony or misdemeanor. From there, Hawaiian authorities evaluate whether or not the individual can continue to legally bear arms. Gun owners remain displeased but Gov. Ige is welcoming the legislation with optimism:

“This is about our community’s safety and responsible gun ownership. This system will better enable our law enforcement agencies to ensure the security of all Hawai‘i residents and visitors to our islands. This bill has undergone a rigorous legal review process by our Attorney General’s office and we have determined that it is our responsibility to approve this measure for the sake of our children and families.”

Both Hawaii’s and California’s efforts offer potential state remedies to a national epidemic, but what about a national solution? The answer may require a decidedly robust infrastructure such as the blockchain technology.

Ethereum and Guns

The blockchain trend is quickly sweeping the markets, with companies such as Everledger, Provenance and Farmshare utilizing Ethereum-based solutions to monitor diamonds, tuna, and produce. So why not guns?

Using the above companies as a template could be ideal. Essentially, each firearm could be branded or engraved with a QRF code or barcode that is associated with a blockchain address. This address could hold important variables for the firearm such as serial number, caliber, model, manufacturer data, date-of-sale, and/or the history of ownership. All of these variables would be on the ledger and subsequently tracked by the blockchain.

A decentralized database option opens up the possibility of more innovation to be established (e.g., a possible Dapp for conducting private sales on the blockchain that coordinates with the national firearm blockchain database). The technology to create such a system does exist but there are a number of other factors to consider when thinking about these applications.

Organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) view the second amendment as a right that should have limited governmental oversight. The organization was particularly incensed by Hawaii’s recent database adoption. As stated in a recent blog:

The exercise of an individual’s Second Amendment rights is not inherently suspicious and should not require a person to surrender other civil liberties, including unwarranted invasions of privacy or unequal treatment under the law. The lawful acquisition, possession, carrying, or use of a firearm does not justify subjecting citizens to ongoing monitoring.”

Organizations like the NRA and Gun Owners of America (GOA) have tremendous lobbying power. In 2015, the NRA spent an estimated $2.5 million on lobbying, and the GOA spent over $1.4 million. These lobbying efforts make implementation of such technologies on a national level harder to adopt simply because when it comes to politics, money talks.

The military and law enforcement would be the ideal place to start. Much of the technology that we casually use every day was originally designed for the military. Given the innovative qualities of the blockchain and the demand for a national database, the possibility of tracking guns for accountability purposes would be enticing to any defense contractor. If such a system proved to be successful in the public sector, then a possible private sector adoption could be considered. As a result, more progressive states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii could be either the trailblazers of technological innovation or purveyors of a legislative fiasco.

Dan Cummings

Dan is a Los Angeles-based musician, writer, and veteran passionate about science and technology, current events, human rights, economic impacts, and strategic calculus.

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