Can Blockchain Be a Solution to Gun Control?

Can Blockchain Be a Solution to Gun Control

How the technology behind crypto can be used to prevent, or at least reduce, gun violence.

The polarized gun control debate in the U.S. is well known. Republicans tend to believe that Americans should generally be able to own and use guns, while Democrats tend to believe that monitoring is necessary. There is rarely a middle ground. However, both sides agree that guns should only end up in the hands of responsible owners able to take care of their firearms. 

Since the legislative gun law debate has done little to limit the amount of gun violence—and since there is such a great split on the severity of gun laws—the country could instead focus on increasing the quality of its existing system and strengthening that instead. 

Enter Blockchain. With its potential to dramatically increase the effectiveness of background checks and gun tracking, blockchain could be the tool that both political parties support

How would blockchain work as a solution to the gun control system?

In November 2017, a public health professor at Washington State University wondered how recent technology could help reduce firearm-related injuries. The professor, Thomas Heston, drafted a white paper named A Blockchain Solution to Gun Control, which was later published in the International Journal of Scientific Research. In his paper, he proposed the idea of blockchain-powered electronic gun safes, which would store and track information of individuals who owned or planned to own firearms.

Similar to how Bitcoin buyers store their digital money in a Bitcoin wallet, individuals who own or plan to own a gun would upload their information into an electronic gun safe, which would be tied to that particular individual’s biometric data, including their fingerprint or retina scan. Whenever a gun is manufactured or moved from one safe to another, the transaction would be verified and recorded on an immutable blockchain. 

Additionally, before any transaction is possible, both the firearm seller and licensed gun vendor would be required to approve the sale and sign the transfer. The receiver must also pass a background check (required by the electronic gun safes) prior to the firearm purchase. This check would include the individual’s history of illegal activity, parole status, domestic violence history, immigration status, drug history, mental health issues and more. In doing so, authorities would be able to streamline their scans for potential dangers. 

What makes blockchain a noteworthy solution? 

The reasons why blockchain is particularly desirable as a solution for gun control and gun violence are manyfold. 

  1. It cannot be corrupted.

At the most fundamental level, a blockchain is a “decentralized ledger that is validated and secured by a network of peer-to-peer nodes”. Since blockchain is decentralized and immutable, many refer to it as the “trust protocol of the internet”, as it cannot be corrupted or targeted. The most commonly-used method to verify blockchain transactions, Proof of Work (PoW), ensures that information in the blockchain system is always safe. In order to modify past ledger entries in PoW blockchains, an attacker would have to hack a majority of miners protecting the system. This would be far too costly and time-consuming for any hacker to attempt, making the information far more secure. 

  1. Stored information cannot be later modified on a blockchain.

No one can falsify information on a blockchain. In this sense, no government or terrorist group could abuse the given information, which is far better than the current gun control system. Right now, the gun registry is hackable, putting civilians more at risk because hackers can delete guns off the list or identify people who do not have weapons for criminal purposes. 

  1. It offers a streamlined and more effective background check.

A blockchain system would also strengthen and streamline the background check process when buying weapons by consolidating necessary information from multiple data sources into one system. Currently, the FBI database for gun buyers is “missing millions of records of criminal convictions, mental illness diagnoses and other flags that would keep guns out of dangerous hands.” 

Who benefits?

All of us! Needless to say, improved background checks and strengthened security benefit almost everybody in society. By minimizing the chances that unsuitable individuals can access firearms, an electronic blockchain gun safe system would reduce firearm-related injuries and fatalities. It would also reduce the emotional toll of such events on the public, among many other positives. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. An accurate gun ledger would advantage law enforcement agencies, as agents would be safer in knowing what firearms they may come up against in any given situation. When law enforcement agencies gain a better understanding of the firearm situation and better defend against treacherous actors, the general public also benefits exponentially due to increased safety.
  1. Counterintuitively, the National Rifle Association (NRA) would also benefit from a new blockchain system of gun control in the United States. Despite the fact that there could be no changes to gun laws, the aforementioned improved background checks and increase in system security would lead to less gun violence. Reduced gun violence would correspondingly lead to reduced political opposition to the NRA in legislation, potentially piloting greater legislative ease and thus providing a net positive for the organization.
  1. Lastly, the electronic blockchain system provides many potential economic benefits. Each instance of gun violence causes a ripple of economic costs, such as lowered property values in affected areas, law enforcement costs, residual healthcare costs and more. In fact, the estimated costs of gun violence in 2012 itself were estimated to be US$229 billion, which was US$88 billion more than the U.S. federal government budget that year. By reducing instances of gun violence, the electronic blockchain system would reduce the economic burden of firearms on the overall American economy, benefitting society as a whole. 

Potential challenges

Of course, the path isn’t all clear—otherwise, the system would already be in place. Heston himself acknowledges that adopting the new technology comes with challenges, citing the “potential risk of the plan might be an initial cost of implementation”. 

Another issue that may be difficult to juggle is the U.S. balance of state rights and federal rights. Heston speculates, “Another potential risk, I think, is a fragmented system, because you are going to have a state-by-state thing that will actually hinder the sharing of information.” Heston suggests that “the federal government will have to take a leadership role” in implementing such a system. Nonetheless, the advent of a potential solution to gun violence is not to be overlooked, especially one that can appeal to both sides of the American political spectrum. 

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash

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