Smart guns and BlockSafe

DISCLAIMER: I work for Factom, which is mentioned in several examples in this article. While I work for Factom, the opinions expressed in this piece are, as always, my own.

Recently, I came across a token sale from the BlockSafe project. After a brief chat with the project's founder, I think this might be an interesting example of a blockchain solution looking for a problem and cashing in on some buzzwords. But let's start from the beginning...

Smart gun technology

A concept of a smart gun is nothing new - it's been around for at least 14 years. The premise is simple - it is a firearm that includes some technology only allowing for the gun to be used by an authorized user. It can be used to prevent "misuse, accidental shootings, gun thefts, use of the weapon against the owner, and self-harm". There are many approaches for user authentication - RFID chips, proximity tokens, fingerprints and biometrics, magnetic rings, mechanical locks, etc.

However, since most guns are inherently simple tools, and a lot of people would rather not have their defensive firearms "rely upon any technology more advanced than Newtonian physics" - batteries go dead, electronics malfunction, software bugs out, etc. Waiting for a blockchain transaction to confirm before your gun is unlocked is the last thing you want to be doing in a hurry.

Moreover, even if the technology was reliable, it would not be able to prevent every situation the society would want to avoid dealing with. Most gun deaths are suicides in the US, you wouldn't really be able to stop most mass shootings or other homicides without some major restrictions (like location-locking guns to one's home for example). Best it could do is restrict the use of stolen guns by people that wouldn't know how to crack or circumvent the DRM - a very small part of the issue.

The smarter the guns would become, the more concerns would be raised by people being paranoid the government would install a kill switch in their weapons to disable them remotely to "take away their freedom" and so on.

Lastly, it is very unlikely requiring any such technology would ever pass the NRA's lobbying in US's current political system. At very best it would be sold as an extra feature, but I somehow doubt there would be many end-user buyers for a gun with limited firing capabilities:

Blockchain for smart guns - good and bad ideas

There are many ways blockchains could be used in conjunction with smart guns, some more useful than the others. As the BlockSafe Foundation website (or their other, non-functional website, #gunsafety #liberty?) doesn't go into too much details on the specifics, let's explore a few options by ourselves.

Solution for the manufacturers - If the project is working up to manufacturer's spec, even if it was ultimately misinformed or using "the blockchain" as a buzzword, you can't really blame the developers for it. Even if using traditional solutions would've been better, they would be paid to deliver the solution in its current shape.

Data logging - If the gun would not be locked by the blockchain, but the solution was only used to log any discharges, or possibly even photos or other data, the blockchain might be used to ensure no data is lost or altered after the fact. This would be similar to how DHS uses Factom - to prove integrity of data. This approach would be especially useful for police and similar civil servants.

Ownership tracking - Instead of doing anything directly with the gun itself, the blockchain could be used to track the ownership of the guns themselves. This would work for both smart and traditional guns to establish an unalterable record of history if a firearm was to be used in a crime in the future. This would be a similar approach to Factom's land title record project. While this might be a good solution for the blockchain, it is very unlikely to pass through NRA as explained here.

Gun locks - possibly coupled with Ownership Tracking, the gun would essentially become a smart property. The gun would keep track of which private key owns it, and would only unlock itself if authorised by the proper private key - through RFID chip, smartphone app, etc. If the ownership would change, proper, new keys would be uploaded and so on. While it might sound like an interesting idea, allowing people to remotely disable their stolen property, etc., this approach would negatively effect the firearm's functionality as described in the previous section of the article.

All in all, it looks like most of the applications for blockchain-powered smart guns could basically be implemented in some straightforward smart contract on Ethereum or the like. Most of the complexity in the technology would come from everything that would be built on top of the blockchain. Now, with that in mind, let's look at how BlockSafe is selling itself...

Claims and buzzwords

Looking at BlockSafe's promotional video, we can list a number of claims, stated or implied, of what the project can do:
  • Prevent
    • Tragic amount of human suffering
    • Mass shootings
    • Unnecessary deadly force from police officers
    • Terrorist attacks
    • Gang violence
    • Citizens being killed by their own guns
  • Save lives
  • Secure one's firearms
  • Manage who can use their firearms
  • Locate and disable stolen weapons
  • Maintain a decentralised database

All powered by Trigger token. Other than the slew of buzzwords intended to appeal to emotions, it looks like the BlockSafe is designed to remotely control and track the guns. Looking at one of their infographics, the system also looks designed to be logging when the gun is used and notify emergency personel. This seems to be hitting on all of the major blockchain applications listed in the previous section, for better or worse.

Even if the project was to succeed, it is very unlikely it would accomplish all of its claims. A terrorist, a gang member, or a mass shooter would not choose a smart gun for their actions. You might get some chance of preventing people getting killed by someone taking their gun, but that's a slim percentage overall, about 0.02% of the gun owners would be killed by their own gun, which includes suicides. As for police officers using deadly force, it might have some dampening effect, but I somehow doubt it would make a significant impact if any.

So what would the Trigger token be likely used for? Well, if you would pay to place logs of the gun into the blockchain, then that's defeating the point - you want every log to go into the chain and not allow people to withdraw their funds to prevent logs from happening. You would need some sort of transactional currency for that, or a centralised solution maintained and paid for by the manufacturer (in which case, you don't need much of a blockchain). Using triggers to transfer gun ownership might be possible, but it might not occur often enough to maintain the network. Using the tokens to unlock the gun would be outright malicious.


All in all, the BlockSafe project looks like a solution looking for a problem and wanting to use a public blockchain to boot. The token presale looks like pure speculation - the project itself doesn't look like it needs the tokens, nor is there a clear explanation of what the tokens would be used for.

The smart gun technology as hinted by their video doesn't look useful. While that might not matter if the project already has industry partners committed to using the project, it might be an important thing to keep in mind for the token speculators - if nobody wants to use the technology, the tokens will ultimately be worthless. If the industry partners are paying for the technology, why sell the tokens at all?

All in all, most of the goals smart guns wish to accomplish could be accomplished easier with a physical lock on the gun, or putting the gun in a safe.

Ultimately, if you are focused on saving lives and reducing gun-related deaths, ban the guns like Australia did, don't run a token presale for some blockchain project...

The Bitcoin Bullshit List

Your Crypto Idea Will Not Work

Your post advocates a new:
(x) Altcoin
(x) Permissioned blockchain

Your idea will not work.  Here is why it won't work.

(x) Your target audience is too small to support the project
(x) The proposed security model is (x) flawed / ( ) not enough / ( ) completely wrong and therefore you will be ( ) scammed / ( ) hacked / ( ) stolen from / (x) circumvented quickly
(x) There is already a product on the market that does exactly what you’re doing, but (x) faster / (x) cheaper / (x) better / ( ) is more established / ( ) ______________
(x) You rely on proprietary (x) hardware / (x) software / ( ) intellectual property / ( ) _________
(x) The solution would work better as a (x) centralised / (x) decentralised / ( ) distributed solution
(x) Your solution is worse than general-purpose computing hardware / software
(x) Your solution will make the current hardware / software perform significantly worse
(x) Your presale tokens have no economic value

Specifically, your plan fails to account for:
(x) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
(x) The human factor
(x) The problems computers have with interacting with the real world
(x) Strong lobby groups opposed to solutions like yours

and the following philosophical objections may also apply:
(x) Nobody likes DRM
(x) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever been shown practical
(x) Whitelists suck
(x) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem

Furthermore, this is what I think about you:
(x) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.

Bitcoin Bullshit Tier

You are advertising a new Bitcoin / crypto related project. Based on the information provided, you have reached the Bullshit Tier of 3 for the following reasons:

Bitcoin Bullshit Tier 1 - marketing babble, technology misunderstanding
(x) “Blockchain”

Bitcoin Bullshit Tier 2 - willful misinformation, bait and switch
(x) Claiming your project can accomplish something hard without a clear explanation of how to do so

Bitcoin Bullshit Tier 3 - Many red flags
(x) Token IPO
(x) Logical fallacy: ( ) false equivalence / ( ) false dichotomy / (x) appeal to emotion
(x) Providing no company contact information

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