I know nothing of electronics. My experience is with software engineering, not electronic engineering. This is a "Is it possible?" type question. If it isn't possible, where are the barriers?

I'm asking this in light of Friday's tragedy in Newtown, CT, which I'm sure we're all familiar with.

Naturally, this has invoked a renewed debate on gun control. But it seems to me that what we need is not more gun control -- people have the right to own guns.

What we need is a system that keeps guns out of certain public places, and this is a problem that only an automated system can effectively solve. We can't have airport-style security in every school and mall.

Here's what I'm thinking about.

I'm a student in college, and we are issued ID cards with a radio signature of some sort. We flash them in front of scanners to get into buildings on campus.

Is it not possible to build a comparable technology INTO GUNS? To require that all fire-arms sold and purchased in the United States are built with an embedded wireless-detectable signature?

Is it not possible to then place wireless detection systems around schools and malls which can detect if such a signature comes past a designated boundary, thus putting the area on lockdown and automatically summoning the police before the incident has even begun?

And the firearms belonging to police and current military would of course not set these systems off; their signatures would match "SAFE".

Then the only task left to the government is enforcing this manufacturing requirement (a much more tractable problem) and cracking down on aftermarket modifications.

Is my proposition unreasonable? It seems so obvious that I'm sure there must be a reason it hasn't already been done.

If it is possible, and nobody else wants to try it, can you point me in the direction of the topics I should educate myself on to better understand how such a technology would work?


In response to the first answer:

I do realize that a non-powered component would require close proximity. But I do not believe it would be a difficult task to move this technology forward to the stage where it does not require close proximity. If they can build a particle collider -- if they can get to the moon -- if they can build an iPhone -- if they can do all the incredible things you hear about them doing every day -- they can develop a method to detect a radio signature at a distance of 500 feet. Absolutely. This is not science fiction.

As for removing/destroying the component: Say this component took the form of a micro-chip embedded into the metal. Now say, for a given model of a gun, there are five locations on the gun where it could fit.

Say 100 instances of this model are manufactured. For 20 of them place the chip in location A. For the next 20, location B, and so on. This would require a change in the manufacturing process, but not an unreasonable one, nor a prohibitively costly one.

Then mix the 5 subtypes and sell them in homogeneous batches -- a person wouldn't know where the component was on their particular gun. They would have to cut through the gun in myriad places to find the component they seek to destroy. They would destroy the gun in so doing. It would be borderline impossible.

As for sniffing -- a person would need to understand what the detection system was looking for in a signature, exactly what information would NOT set off the system. If the internal information scheme was kept secret, this is not a concern.

As for getting innocents in trouble-- a person would have to know what sort of signature the detection system was looking for, what kind of information it would convey. Easily kept secret. The people with the ability to break such a system would rarely overlap with the people looking to commit murder.

However, I have yet to think of a way around the Faraday cage.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is not a good fit for our site @aerovistae. I know such a solution would be nice, but brainstorming on how to track guns is off topic here and as answers also show it is not a good fit. Acting on the basis, "if we can build a particle collider," this is just open-ended brain-storming and wishing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Dec 17, 2012 at 14:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I understand; I got caught up in wishful thinking. The whole thing on Friday was rather upsetting. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 17, 2012 at 22:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ you are not alone. :*( \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Dec 18, 2012 at 1:27

1 Answer 1


It is absolutely possible, but, in my opinion, not practical. There a few issues with this approach. The first obvious one is that anyone wanting to commit a crime will simply remove or destroy this component.

Otherwise, the card you used only works at very close proximity. In order to make it work in a mall or whatever, it would need to be actively transmitting meaning it would need some sort of power source (battery) and antenna to transmit around saying it's active.

Bypassing that is again very easy: don't change the battery or remove it and it won't transmit. Then gun manufacturers need to build in special parts to house this electronics and battery/antenna too. Another way around is to wrap the gun in aluminium foil to act as a Faraday cage and again it won't transmit.

Someone could also make a DIY transmitter of this gun one and stick it in the purse or car of innocent non-gun-carrying people and get them in trouble over nothing.

An attacker could also sniff the signature of a "safe" law-enforcement gun and put it into their own.

For all these reasons, I do not think components inside the gun is a good detection approach.

If you want to go ahead with this anyway and try it, this project is a good starting point: http://www.openbeacon.org/ it is an open source active RFID badge and detectors for them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ See my edit regarding these barriers. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 16, 2012 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ A chip in metal is then Faraday-caged on its own if it's inside metal... As for not being cost-prohibitive to manufacturing, I'm not sure how you can say that. Choosing some locations, compromising integrity of the gun's structure, etc seem like huge and expensive problems. \$\endgroup\$
    – nemik
    Dec 16, 2012 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do realize how that sounds, but this is exactly the problem. You're looking for reasons it can't work instead of thinking of ways it can. I'm just one person with very little knowledge. If a team of very experienced and innovative engineers tried to design a gun with such a thing embedded, don't you think that there must be a way around that? Neither of these two "problems" are oh-God-this-project-can-never-succeed type barriers. This isn't a space elevator. It's just a change to an existing manufacturing process. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 16, 2012 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great link, btw. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 16, 2012 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Besides, there must be a way to transmit through aluminum foil. There just has to be. It can't be that simple. No known signal can penetrate a simple wall of foil? Nothing? If I challenged MIT's engineering department to send a signal through a sheet of aluminum foil, they would waste years before giving up? I just don't believe that this can't be done. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 16, 2012 at 22:58

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