Will Blockchain Help Stop Gun Violence?

Let’s dive into the hottest topic on the Internet: Gun control. By the news, you would think America is one big shootout. But the truth is, violent crimes have been trending downward. And while mass shootings get a lot of attention, by far the majority of gun deaths are criminal on criminal (read gang related) and homicide. And 90% of guns used in crimes were stolen or bought on the black market, with a small percentage being acquired through straw purchases—that’s getting a good relative or friend without a record to buy you a piece. The Dayton shooter relied on a friend to supply him with ammunition. And there are enough guns in America already that there are plenty to be stolen and sold illegally that a national gun register will hardly make a dent in the number of lives lost. But it is a start. Gun registries and their enforcement are a dumpster fire. Some states have stricter laws than others. Many sellers ignore the laws concerning background checks. Still, putting a national gun registry in a secure place, where it can’t be manipulated, yet still be easily accessed is a good idea. Honest people have nothing to fear. Straw buyers will think twice, as will anybody buying guns legally to sell illegally on the black market.

There are tech companies working on bio locks for guns that will only fire for whom the gun is registered. A good idea for the future, but all those old-fashioned guns lying around will last for at least a few hundred more years. And outright outlawing all guns will merely drive more guns to the black market, and make criminals out of innocent people who have never committed a crime other than owning a gun. 

In colonial India, there was a problem with venomous snakes. The British government ordered a bounty on all cobras. Opportunist Indians began breeding cobras to sell to the government. So naturally, the British stopped offering bounties; and all those farm-raised cobras were set free, making the problem even worse. Any solution to gun control must take into consideration the cobra effect. Making all guns illegal will put more guns in the hands of criminals. 

Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals in the first place would solve half the problem. And here is where the blockchain could come into play. Tracking movements and transactions on the dark web and black market. First, the dark web: It would take an incredible amount of processing power to track every conversation on the dark web. But with a combination of AI and blockchain, it is possible to create a blacklist of serial numbers, sellers, and buyers. Google and Facebook are already collecting thousands of points of data from their users. Why not cross-reference with the anonymous points of data generated on the dark web in order to create a red flag on someone’s profile? That person would be stopped, or questioned extensively before being able to purchase a gun.

Background checks should be a law enforcement job, not a gunseller’s job. It would be very easy to require a person to apply for a permit to get a gun before actually buying one. That permit would be checked against the national registry. It’s called a permit-to-purchase law, and it works:

In a 2015 paper, Webster and others compared Missouri with Connecticut, which implemented a licensing requirement in the early 1990s. In Missouri, firearm suicides increased 16 percent after the repeal of the permit requirement. In Connecticut, the firearm suicide rate fell by 15 percent after the state imposed its permit law.  [see link]

Not only can an officer ask someone if they have a permit to carry a gun, Blockchain would keep a National record of those with permits, and those caught without permits.

Pardon the pun, but if we aim our laws at those actually breaking the laws, and give police the tools to enforce them, we will see a decrease in gun violence.

Unfortunately, the outlier in all this is the mass killer. Generally, those who are serial killers are loners, feel some vengeance toward humanity, and have access to guns…too often military-style guns that can inflict a lot of damage in a short period of time. This is a behavioral issue, a mental health issue, a community issue. Each of us has to be better at knowing those around us and spotting the red flags—especially parents. Many of the shooters are young (Columbine and Sandy Hook), parents need to pay attention to their children, watch closely, look for signs of disenfranchisement. But even then, it’s highly unpredictable.

The good news is we can stop maybe 10% or 20% of criminal homicides and suicides by making it much harder for criminals to get guns. The blockchain can help. And that’s a start.