NY Times Humor Column Unwittingly Makes The Case Against “Smart” Guns

July 28th, 2016

Joyce Wadler, a humorist for the New York Times, wrote a satirical column about not being able to unlock her iPhone quickly enough to take a picture of teenagers who assaulted her.

Then I remember what the modern victim is supposed to do: Get a photo. I open the flap of my cross-body bag; unzip the phone pouch; try to unlock my phone with a sweaty fingerprint — and fail, because wet hands mess up the ID; punch in my security code; swipe through the icons for the camera; find it; and aim. By which time the kids have, of course, disappeared.

You know those assault horror stories that have exploded this summer? Women groped on subways; perverts exposing themselves; black drivers pulled over and terrorized by the police; officers murdered by snipers.

What has amazed me about these crimes is the ability of many victims or passers-by to quickly grab their phones and get a photo. Or live-stream the attackers on Facebook. America is a country of quick-draw artists, with apps instead of guns.

But not me. I am, I realize, one of those helpless townspeople who after years of being terrorized by a gang of sneering bandits, would have to hire a gunman. Clint Eastwood, say, in a remake of “High Plains Drifter” — call it “High Line Drifter.”

This is precisely why smart guns are impractical. The decision to use a gun must be made in a split-second. (If you don’t think anyone can ever use a gun in self-defense, no need to read the rest of the post–your position is to ban guns altogether). Having to deal with a finger-print reader, or wearing a special bracelet to activate the gun, adds unnecessary time before it can be used. And that’s assuming these electronic devices work. If the battery dies, or your finger print is sweaty, or the software crashes, it is too late.

In January, President Obama asked “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?” Ms. Wadler illustrated the point clearly.

In any event, Apple recognized that when it comes to snapping the perfect selfie, every second counts. On the iPhone, there is a feature that allows you to take a picture without having to use a fingerprint, or code to unlock the phone.All you have to do is swipe up with the camera icon, and it goes straight to the camera app. Why do you think Steve Jobs and company inserted that feature? Because if you enter the wrong code, or if your finger is sweaty, the phone doesn’t unlock right away. When you have to take a selfie at *just* the right moment, and seconds count, requiring the user to unlock the phone takes too much time.


If time is of the essence to take a selfie, then time is really of the essence when using a firearm for self-defense. Even if a smart gun is able to discern the owner’s fingerprints, or the owner’s grip, it still introduces a potential for error. With self-defense, every millisecond counts.

I’m reminded of this exchange during D.C. v. Heller between Walter Dellinger and the Chief and Scalia about how long it takes to remove a trigger lock.

John G. Roberts, Jr. So how long does it take? If your interpretation is correct, how long does it take to remove the trigger lock and make the gun operable.

Walter E. Dellinger, III –You… you place a trigger lock on and it has… the version I have, a few… you can buy them at 17th Street Hardware… has a code, like a three-digit code. You turn to the code and you pull it apart. That’s all it takes. Even… it took me 3 seconds.

Antonin Scalia You turn on, you turn on the lamp next to your bed so you can… you can turn the knob at 3-22-95, and so somebody–

Walter E. Dellinger, III Well–

John G. Roberts, Jr. Is it like that? Is it a numerical code?

Walter E. Dellinger, III –Yes, you can have one with a numerical code.

John G. Roberts, Jr. So then you turn on the lamp, you pick up your reading glasses…–


Walter E. Dellinger, III Let me tell you. That’s right. Let me tell you why at the end of the day this doesn’t… this doesn’t matter, for two reasons. The lesson–

John G. Roberts, Jr. It may not matter, but I’d like some idea about how long it takes.

Walter E. Dellinger, III –It took me 3 seconds. I’m not kidding.