Blockchain solution to Gun Control (Part 69)

Welcome to the 69th part of the 100-part series on Blockchain.

The United States of America is certainly an exceptional country when it comes to guns. It’s one of the few nations where the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected. Among developed nations, the US is by far the most homicidal — largely due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms. In the US, firearm-related deaths have reached epidemic levels. In 2020, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S, out of which 54% of all gun-related deaths were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murdered (19,384). People in the United States are 25 times more likely to die from gun homicide than those in other industrialized nations.

In fact, the impact of fatal firearm injuries is three times greater than the impact of diabetes and almost four times greater than brain disease. Thus, firearm homicides and suicides are a continuing public health concern in the United States.

In a country where it is easier to be a gun owner than a car driver, it is clear that the current laws are not enough to ensure the safety of its citizens from potential murderers.

Enter Blockchain. Blockchain can be a solution that can solve this gun control problem in the US and other relevant countries.

Blockchain in performing background checks

The first application of Blockchain in gun control is while performing background checks. Background checks are required for obtaining guns and these background checks are performed by querying the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS is a series of databases maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Under the law, criminals or people suffering from mental health are not eligible to obtain guns. NICS is designed to be an instantaneous process and the vast majority of gun background checks take just minutes, and if the query turns up negative, then the gun transfer is also approved within minutes.

However, there are cases where the FBI takes more time to investigate. A normal scenario for this can be if the buyer happens to have a name same as that of a criminal, then his gun background check may take much longer. Besides, in certain cases, the buyers are mistakenly denied the purchase of a firearm as well. According to the FBI’s own records, every year about 3,000 people officially pass the NICS background check required to receive a license to carry a gun, despite actually being prohibited from purchasing one under the state law.

To minimize these system errors, a Blockchain-based registry system can be put in place for performing these background checks more efficiently. The information about the person, such as any prior history of mental health issues and past crimes will be stored on the distributed ledger. People who pass the background check may own a gun, and on the other hand, those who don’t will be prohibited from doing so. Also, as Blockchain is decentralized, it is significantly less vulnerable to hacking. Thus Blockchain technology can minimize risk and mitigate failures in the current system of gun ownership in the US.

Blockchain in the tracking of guns

The second application of Blockchain is in the tracking of guns. From manufacturing to the sale of a firearm, knowing where it is at any given point of time is important to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Implementation of a Blockchain-based system can solve this challenge of tracking guns throughout its complete journey. In this proposed system, the individuals currently owning a gun or purchasing a gun would get an electronic gun safe, similar to a cryptocurrency wallet. The electronic gun safe would be linked to an individual’s biometric data, such as a retina scan or fingerprints.

Whenever a gun is manufactured, purchased, or sold, the transaction from one electronic gun safe to another would be recorded on the Blockchain in an immutable, time-stamped manner.

Additionally, prior to the transaction, the buyer of the gun would have to pass a background check. The transfer of guns in this Blockchain-based system, will be mediated through smart contracts. If an individual passes the background check, smart contract will initiate the gun transfer, and if not, the transfer will be denied and the gun will still be recorded against the seller’s electronic gun safe.

Furthermore, the buyers of guns would be required to upload their electronic medical records and electronic criminal records on this platform. And whenever a medical event occurs, such as depression or a suicide attempt by the buyer, the platform would spit out this information to the state law enforcement for the protection of that individual and others around him.

Moreover, when the criminal record changes of a gun holder, then also local law enforcement will be notified.

And if in case the gun of a person gets stolen, that information will also be recorded on the Blockchain because crimes from stolen guns are a very common occurrence.

Thus, using Blockchain technology to monitor firearms could definitely help to reduce mass shootings by making it more difficult to obtain guns illegally and to purchase or possess a gun without passing a mental health background check.

Blockchain and smart guns

“Smart guns,” also known as “personalized” firearms, are intended to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing and using firearms. Currently, there are two kinds of existing technologies in smart guns capable of reliably identifying authorized users.

· The first type is Radio frequency identification (RFID) tokens that can activate a firearm when they are in close proximity to it. These tokens can be integrated into bracelets, watches, rings, or other wearable devices. Entering a PIN on the wearable device activates or deactivates the weapon, which automatically shuts off after a certain interval or if the gun moves more than 15 inches from the wearable device.

· The second type is biometric recognition which activates a firearm after identifying biological features like a fingerprint, palm print, or grip.

These technologies are designed to prevent shootings that occur when unauthorized users like children — gain access to unsecured guns. Household guns are the most common weapons used by youth in violence against themselves or others. Between 70 to 90% of guns used in youth suicides, unintentional shootings among children, and school shootings are obtained by shooters under the age of 18 from their home or the homes of their relatives or friends.

Smart guns also render them useless to criminals who steal them. A survey data suggests that approximately 380,000 guns are stolen from individual gun owners every year.

Blocksafe network is the first Blockchain-based system that manages smart gun functionality on the Blockchain and provides improved security and privacy. When a gun fires, the Blocksafe “shotspot” technology senses and logs details on the distributed ledger. If an unauthorized user tries to use a smart gun, then the Blockchain network notifies the owner of the gun via a smartphone.

The potential risk that smart guns face is security because the IoT devices on smart guns are susceptible to hacking. But the implementation of Blockchain technology can provide security and safety to smart guns and make them resistant to hacking.

Challenges in implementing Blockchain for gun control

(i) Blockchain would need to gain widespread acceptance. One or two states implementing Blockchain can’t control gun violence since anyone with a federal firearms license can buy or sell a gun across state lines in the U.S. The system would need to roll out nationally, and it would cost money to implement.

(ii) There is also the issue of all the guns already in circulation. Registering all the nation’s gun owners on the Blockchain system is challenging.

Scalability concerns

(i) Blockchain used will be permissioned Blockchain. Storing the entire data about the gun supply chain, personal data of individuals, background check verification, IoT data, etc., on Blockchain is very challenging as it is very costly and will significantly slow down the processing on Blockchain. Thus, distributed file storage IPFS can provide low-cost off-chain storage to store data, and the hash of the uploaded file is then stored on the Blockchain and accessed through the smart contract. Any modification in the uploaded file would change its hash. IPFS has been explained in detail in Part 18.

(ii) To make the Blockchain scalable, layer 1 (discussed in Part 15) and layer 2 (discussed in Part 16) scaling solutions will be required to be implemented.

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Happy learning!



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