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Piers Fawkes: Could Data Kill Gun Ownership?

Banning guns is too difficult to achieve. Let's create radical transparency for the ownership of deadly weapons.

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
Piers Fawkes, PSFK on December 20, 2012. @piers_fawkes

As it is unlikely that any US government will overturn a misleading piece of ancient legislation on the ownership of guns, how could we create a solution that leverages social media and the internet to create hyper awareness about who owns weapons of extreme violence?

Today, someone’s ownership of a gun remains a secret to the rest of us – but records are kept by state officials and there are membership lists of organizations like the National Rifle Association and other gun clubs. Instead of trying the lengthy route of banning guns, why don’t we take the simple and swift step and gather all ownership data then allow it to be freely available? Like home purchasing data, the ownership and purchase of a gun should be filed on a query-able central database that could be accessed by the makers of mobile apps and web services.

How would this impact gun ownership? I can imagine a number of services that could leverage the data – and provide it in a way that allows regular people to decide how to associate with people who own guns. With hyper-transparency, there could be a way to change widespread opinion about ownership of guns by shaming people who own them and warn shoppers away from businesses run by gun owners.

Here are some future-forward examples of how services we use today could use a central gun ownership database:

LinkedIn Colleague Alert
The professional network LinkedIn could alert you when a colleague buys a gun. The network knows what company you work for and who your main contacts are. LinkedIn could match that data to a gun ownership database and send warnings when someone you know buys a deadly weapon. Users would be informed about their colleagues before they return to work each day and be able to challenge them about their dangerous behavior – or simply avoid working in the same office space as them.

Google Safe Search
Google could update the way it provides its search results so that it ensures the user is safe from harm. With an updated ‘safe search’ default, Google could only provide recommendations to stores and restaurants in neighborhoods where there is low gun ownership. Google could also demote the listing of companies that appear in search results where the board members are registered gun owners.

Apple Maps With Added Security
Apple‘s mobile mapping application has come in for a lot of criticism recently because of its lack of accuracy. Could the tech company bring back confidence in its software by adding ‘safe route’ options that take travelers on routes that avoid high crime ownership areas? If neighborhoods realize that they are being avoided, would local government officials take action to improve to drop gun ownership rates and attract visitors to spend money in the local economy?

Harm Highlight
A number of geo-aware services like Highlight have been launched over the last 12 months. These services look at a users social profile and indicate when someone they know – or should know – is in close proximity. These services could be adapted by indicating if people you are likely to come in contact with are gun owners. Maybe the service would inform you about parents who own guns when you approach a school your children attends.

Would these services invade the regular American’s privacy? Or their safety? No and no. There is so much data already out there and the provision of it would not lead to high levels of invasions of privacy or threats. Today for example, anyone can find out where and for how much I bought an apartment for with a Google search and while I might get the occasional realtor postcard, I don’t get people pleading to stay in my space. There is so much personal data available that we become anonymous because of the sheer volume. In addition, an owners database should be instantly query-able by anyone – but not available to download. That step would limit misuse of the data.

By providing contextual access to gun ownership data, we could  ensure that everyone is informed and can can make proper decisions about the places they live, work and play in. In some communities the idea of putting a bullet in a deer is acceptable and the people who live there won’t be worried to learn of the ownership of a hunting rifle by a neighbor (as long as it matches the sporting need). However, urban dwellers might want to ask the Coop board to challenge the ownership of a neighbor’s semi-automatic weapon in a crowded Manhattan apartment block where children live.

Despite the Sandy Hook tragedy, we will see that the banning guns will be too difficult to achieve.  Let’s create radical transparency when it comes to the ownership of deadly weapons. Data is far more powerful than the gun. Data offers American style freedom from the tyrants who misuse US law for selfish ideals and business pursuits. Data can protect us and our loved ones.

Thinking...