The TrackingPoint “Smart Rifle” Exemplifies Everything That’s Horrible About American Gun Culture

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 5 2013 2:20 PM

The TrackingPoint “Smart Rifle” Exemplifies Everything That’s Horrible About American Gun Culture

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 2.03.50 PM
A TrackingPoint rifle

Screenshot from YouTube

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So you’ve got the urge to send some rounds downrange, but you can’t shoot and don’t want to take the time to learn? Well, have I got the weapon for you! Meet the brand-new TrackingPoint weapons system, a so-called smart rifle that uses advanced sensing and imaging technology to turn any wealthy dilettante into an expert sharpshooter. Here’s NPR’s Mark Dewey:*

The rifle's scope features a sophisticated color graphics display. The shooter locks a laser on the target by pushing a small button by the trigger. It's like a video game. But here's where it's different: You pull the trigger but the gun decides when to shoot. It fires only when the weapon has been pointed in exactly the right place, taking into account dozens of variables, including wind, shake and distance to the target.
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The rifle also incorporates technology that lets you record every shot and post that recording to YouTube or Facebook. It’s not clear whether the rifle also captions the recording for you, but, if not, here’s one you can use: “I used a real-life cheat code to make this tremendously difficult shot! Please shower me with your scorn, because I deserve it.”

I have nothing but disdain for the TrackingPoint, which exemplifies everything I hate about a gun culture that is quick to put firearms in the hands of people who neither respect nor know how to use them, and that treats proficiency as a product to be purchased instead of a skill to be earned. Granted, the purchase price for the TrackingPoint is really, really high—its manufacturer sells TrackingPoint systems to civilians starting at $22,500—which means the only people who buy this thing will be wealthy enthusiasts. (The TrackingPoint website invites shooters to “Apply Now” to buy one.) But it’ll get cheaper over time; NPR reports that Remington is already interested in incorporating the technology into rifles that will retail for about $5,000.

While the TrackingPoint technology has definite military applications, I can’t think of any real civilian use for it. In a sense, the TrackingPoint is just a really advanced scope. But even the best scope doesn’t fire the gun for you. Any self-respecting hunter ought to be disgusted by something that promises to turn every hunt into a canned hunt. Despite the manufacturer’s claims, TrackingPoint really isn’t suited for target shooting—where’s the fun in shooting at a target that you know you’re going to hit? It’s overkill for self-defense; the only way you would feel like you were in imminent danger from someone standing 500 yards away is if that person also had a TrackingPoint. Who would actually use this weapons system?

Aspiring snipers, maybe? People with bad intentions who borrow or steal the rifle from its actual owner? Not to worry, says the manufacturer: TrackingPoint owners can guard against misuse by password-protecting the scope, which eases my mind, because we all know how diligent gun owners are about properly securing their weapons! The company also says it will thoroughly vet every buyer, although that somehow doesn’t bring me much comfort either.

I’d wager that the TrackingPoint doesn’t work half as well as the manufacturer claims. Early versions of technologies are always buggy. But a half-good automated long-range rifle is still more of a long-range rifle than any civilian needs. This thing is legal now, but let’s hope it isn’t for long.

*Correction, June 13, 2013: This post originally misidentified the reporter who wrote the NPR story on the TrackingPoint. He is Mark Dewey, not Matthew Dewey. The relevant sentence has been corrected.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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