RFID, PR, and SHTF: are the feds really implanting tracking chips in your guns?

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You’ve probably heard about the flap MKS Distributing caused last week. MKS, a former promoter of Charter Arms, is the primary distributor for Chiappa guns – including the Rhino revolver.

Chiappa disclosed that starting in 2012 all their guns would carry an RFID chip. The chip is attached at the time of manufacture, and presumably contains information such as the gun’s serial number, place of origin, lot number, and that sort of thing. Because it’s applied at the factory, it can’t contain any data on the eventual purchaser.

I can see why Chiappa would want to do this, even if their government wasn’t requiring them to: it makes for more accurate inventory of a controlled item. While a barcode on a box ensures that the box is present, it doesn’t say anything about the contents. The RFID tag allows inventory of actual units, as opposed to the boxes which surround them. Were I in that business, I’d probably consider something similar to prevent what is termed “leakage” – mysterious disappearances from stock.

RFID inventory tags are not new, but their application to firearms is. It’s this novelty, the potential for abuse, and how their distributor has handled the news which is causing problems.

When the news hit the blogosphere, some of which contained rampant and ill-informed speculation, the distributor (through their PR agent – with whom I am familiar and not all that fond) sent out a scathing release belittling not just the public’s fears but also the blogger’s concerns. It was that haughty and scornful statement which has turned the public against Chiappa and, by extension, MKS. The release, obviously intended to quash rumors, contained some erroneous information of its own.

There are, as I see it, two relevant facts. First, the RFID chip contains information about the gun, and only about the gun. It contains nothing about the purchaser or user. Second, an RFID chip can in fact be read at a considerable distance, although the extent of such reading is a matter of debate. I think it’s generally accepted that a read distance of a few yards is easily doable, much more than the “2-3 inches” that MKS/Chiappa insists.

Beyond those two facts, nothing is clear. Could an RFID chip be used in the future as some sort of marker for a concealed weapon? Possibly. Could they be used to track a buyer? That might be a bit overblown, but the technology exists. Is it happening now, or could it in the near future? Not probable. Could legislation be introduced tomorrow requiring all guns without an RFID chip be destroyed to facilitate some draconian tracking scheme? Extremely unlikely. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, mind you, but I don’t think it’s worth your or my time to worry about. At least, not at the current stage of implementation.

It’s the attitude, the dismissive manner in which the concerns of the buying public were addressed that’s really at issue. Many people are calling for a boycott of MKS/Chiappa for that reason.

I find this amusing, inasmuch as Smith & Wesson – through their owners, Saf-T-Hammer Inc. – foisted a dubious internal locking system on the public and similarly (though far more politely) dismissed buyer’s concerns over the efficacy and reliability of the mechanism. Many people, including yours truly, called for a boycott of S&W. It didn’t happen, at least to any meaningful degree, and today their business is booming. What’s more, you can go to any gun forum and find lots of people who proclaim in the face of evidence to the contrary that the locks are just fine. That’s what happens when corporate blunders are well handled.

People will find a reason to buy what they want to buy; giving them that reason is the job of the PR people, but sometimes that effort backfires – like it did here. Based on my past interaction with all three parties involved, I’m not surprised.

MKS and Chiappa are very small companies and I doubt that they can easily weather the storm that their inept PR has brewed. This faux pas may be the end of their aspirations in the American market, but I think it’s a little silly for us to manufacture a reason not to buy their products when the flaws of those products should be reason enough to avoid them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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