When Technology and the 2nd Amendment Collide

Posted: September 25, 2013 in News, Politics

TrackingPoint XS3

I have so much else that I should be working on right now, but this has been really bugging me for the last week or so. We’ve got enough issues with what is and isn’t legal to buy and own insofar as firearms that it isn’t funny. And, of course, everyone has their own line to be drawn in the sand on the matter that is in direct opposition to everyone else’s line in the sand and that range anywhere from banning all guns to allowing just about anybody access to just about anything.

Well, now we have a new toy entering the marketplace that should have a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering WTF the people that decided to market this were thinking (let alone the people that regulate such matters) and debating just how heavily regulated this thing should be. Everybody, give a warm welcome to the new kid in the debate. Welcome the TrackingPoint XS3.

The one thing you should know upfront about the TrackingPoint XS3 is that it is in many ways not a rifle by most conventional lines of thought. It looks like a standard rifle with a scope and it fires a sizable round, but it’s almost more accurate to call it a computerized weapons system than it is to call it a rifle. That’s not a statement of hyperbole by the way, that really is a pretty damned close assessment of what this thing is.

The TrackingPoint XS3 is a rifle/scope combo that falls under the category of Precision Guided Firearms or PGFs. The scope isn’t actually a scope in the normal sense though. For one thing, it’s an integrated system of the rifle. You’re also not looking through multiple lenses at the magnified image of your target. You look into the eyepiece and you’re looking at small screen with a heads-up display system run through a series of microprocessors. And guess what these microprocessors do? Just about everything you used to have to do.

You set this baby up and get a bead on your target. When you’ve got the target nicely in your sights, you pull the trigger. And that’s when this thing, despite its appearance, stops being a gun and starts being a computerized weapons system. Because when you pull that trigger, the rifle does not fire.

Pulling the trigger and holding it back activates the system and it “tags” your target. Once your target is tagged, the system locks onto it for so long as you have it clearly in your sights. The system begins calculating basic things like the range of the target as well as making adjustments for things like drop, inclination angle, elevation, cant, temperature, relative humidity, pressure, lock time, and a host of other things that all impact the accuracy of a long distance shot. The computer gives you sights to line up on the target and only when the computer has determined that you’ve aligned the barrel correctly to make the shot will the .300 Winchester Magnum round actually be fired. And you don’t have to be particularly skilled with a gun or a crack shot with distances to make the shot either.

This system also eliminates the possibility of other forms of shooter error. There’s no need to control your breathing when you pull the trigger and a jumpy shooter cannot ever jerk or slap the trigger and throw off the shot. Again, pulling the trigger does not fire the gun. The gun fires itself only when you have properly targeted your shot in the little heads-up display (or big heads-up display as it can send video to devices like an iPad) and only when the shot is a surefire hit. The only thing you have to manually adjust for is wind speed and direction of the wind and that’s usually only a major adjustment for extreme distances or if you’re dealing with heavy winds.

Simple field tests with the TrackingPoint XS3 have led to people making dead on accurate shots at targets without any form of distance/range markers ranging from 200 yards out to almost 1,103 yards out on their very first shot. In practical application testing, the system locks on to even moving targets that have been tagged and adjusts as the target shifts and travels. What you’re looking at here is a one (sniper quality) shot, one kill with very little needed skill weapon.

And a missed shot, a shot that might otherwise warn a target, is almost a thing of the past with this system. The gun will not fire if the shot is bad. If you lose your tagged target and it slips off of the heads-up display, the gun simply disengages the shot and does not fire the round. If your target is moving and slips behind cover, the rifle terminates the shot. If something else comes between you and the target, the rifle terminates the shot. You either get a clean kill shot in or you don’t waste the round or warn the target. You just have to reacquire and retag your target when you can and try again.

Normally talk like this would make you think that the military has one hell of a new weapon, right? Not the case here. This is being marketed to civilian gun owners. The initial plan is to market it to hunters. As matter of fact, my first real awareness that this system was being marketed for civilian applications was through a cover feature in the October 2013 issue of Petersen’s Hunting.

PH Oct 2013

You can see their online article on the system as well as a video showcasing its abilities at the following link.

http://www.petersenshunting.com/2013/09/09/trackingpoint-is-technology-the-future-of-hunting/

You can view just the video on YouTube here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu2EqO1qbrQ#t=62

Watch the video or just think about what’s being laid out here. This PGF can accurately fire a round that can take down large game at distances greater than 10 football fields. And you don’t truly need any great skill to do it. If you play video games on just about any home gaming system, you’re probably more than skilled enough to shoot this weapon with deadly accuracy at ranges of 1,000 yards or more.

And this is being made available to anyone who can purchase a gun.

Right now the cost is prohibitive to the casual buyer. I’ve seen some breakdowns on this that say that a low end model might come in priced as low as $17,000. The one reviewed in Petersen’s Hunting was presented as package deal. You get the TrackingPoint XS3 rifle with integrated scope system, in .300 Winchester Magnum, 200 rounds of custom loaded Barnes ammunition, Harris bipod, and a Pelican case for $27,000.

Of course, the thing with this price tag is that this is new tech cost. This is, as I said above, more of a computerized weapons system than it is simply a gun. The computer components put together in this manner are what you’re paying for and we all know that new tech like this usually drops substantially within few years after the initial release to the market. We’ve seen this drop in price with computers, DVD and Blu-Ray players, HD televisions, and a host of other items that are “new” electronics/tech heavy in their nature. And we’ll likely see the same thing here with this system’s price coming down to a more realistic price point for wider sales.

I called this a kind of a WTF moment up top for a reason. You kind of have to wonder WTF people were thinking when they approved this for the same basic sales restrictions as any other hunting rifle. This thing has the potential of making almost anyone who picks it up a crack sniper shot at long distances. Now put that into the context of (1) why we restrict certain types of firearms sales and (2) into the context of some of the mass shootings of the last few decades.

(1) We don’t allow sales of full auto in the same manner that we do semi-auto. Yes, there are circumstances where you can become eligible to purchase full-auto firearms in the United States. We just try to make that a very difficult thing to qualify for.

The reason we don’t want them out on the open market is that a fully-automatic rifle is an insanely dangerous weapon to have in the general population with limited practical uses. The level of lethality was weighed against its practical uses and both the safety and needs of the general population and deemed to be not really all that needed on the open market.

This strikes me as much the same. Most hunters I know would have no use for this thing. Most hunters actually do feel a need to have some level of challenge on the hunt. They want to learn their craft and hone their skills and they don’t want something that does everything for them. I even know hunters who are retro-grading their gear and moving away from higher end scopes and guns and back to the basics that they grew up with. Still others are seeking out that feel of having a challenge again by going to back to the bow. There’s even one guy who’s gaining some level of fame in hunting circles for becoming wildly successful at taking large game after having gone back to using a spear. Even the Petersen’s Hunting article notes that many hunters may eschew the use of this system as it flies in the face of the Fair Chase standards that many value and hunt by.

But what about others?

Target shooters? Why? For as much as this thing takes the skill and challenge out of the equation and turns it into a live-action video game you might as well cut down on the dent in your ammo budget and just play a damned target shooter video game. Looking at what this thing does, there’s no one with a shred of pride in their skill who is going to feel any level of achievement after a day on the range and a stack of targets with tight, center mass groupings in them thanks to this thing. Hey, you didn’t do it, the gun pretty much did it all and you’ll know that.

This is not a home defense weapon. This is a weapon that by its very design and nature serves no practical purpose as a home defense weapon and that fires the type of round that would endanger people in the next room and even neighbors who own homes located in close proximity to yours.

Personal protection weapon? No. It’s not fitting neatly into your waistband or purse and its size and weight makes it impractical as a personal protection weapon unless you plan to swing it like a baseball bat.

Defending and protecting liberty? Sorry, but if your Alex Jones and Glenn Beck fueled delusions of you standing your ground when the evil Obama (or fill in whatever other politician you hate) turns to martial law and a full military dictatorship is your argument; you’re frankly too stupid to be in the conversation. You just have a gun, even if it’s a high-end, high-tech, advanced weapons system type of gun. The military has jets, drones, tanks, and an assortment of weaponry that would remove you and your gun from the face of the Earth the moment you became an annoyance to them. For that matter, Iraq’s military and Saddam’s personal guards had fully automatic guns, rocket launchers, grenades, and an assortment of military vehicles at their disposal. Go ask them how well that worked out for them back in March of 2003 when they faced the U.S. military.

And, seriously, if you’re staking out the position that you think that the United States Military will as an institution turn its guns on the citizenry in support of and on orders from a President that has decided to make himself President for Life… Well, you’re showing everyone that you’re likely pretty crazy and that you’re likely mentally unstable enough that you shouldn’t be allowed to own any sort of gun to begin with.

And you’re not defending the country from your bunker if the extremely unlikely event of a full scale foreign invasion should occur. No, the real military will be doing that for you and letting you know when you can come out.

So, really, what is the TrackingPoint XS3 outside of a trendy toy to trendy hunters or wealthy people more interested in collecting big game trophies for the ego stroke? Well, for one thing it’s an integrated weapons system that turns the average disgruntled/unstable video game jock into an almost military level sniper with almost no training. That leads us to…

(2) Most of the mass-shooting shooters out there as of right now are not going to use this thing and they’re also not likely to use the future generations of this thing in the very near future. But the price dropping and availability increasing would both change this.

It’s true that a lot of the people behind various mass shootings are not great at planning out their rampage. However, this is not true of all of them. The Aurora Colorado theater shooter actually spent a pretty penny and his guns, ammo, and other toys starting several months ahead of the shooting. The Fort Hood and Virginia Tech shooters both bought their weapons through legal dealers well in advance of the shootings they were engaged in. Hell, even the Columbine shooters actively prepared for their spree. And they’re not alone in this.

And then there’s the type who uses the weapons that others provide them. The shooter who walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School did so with weapons that he took from the home he was living in. And the home he was living in was filled with guns bought by someone who many would call a gun nut. For him, the weapons were basically handed to him on a silver platter. Some truly are provided the best available weapons purely by chance and circumstance.

And of course some mass shooters, the really dangerous ones, do plan ahead and do look at what will work best for them. Give anyone like them the opportunity to use a weapon like this, a weapon that would allow them to pick off one target or many targets as far away as the length of ten football fields, and you’ve got a massacre. And you’ve got one were tackling the shooter is out of the question and being a good guy with a gun on the scene isn’t likely going to be very helpful. One person with that gun or a later generation of it in a school bell tower or like-structure or in an old abandoned building where there’s a clear view of a crowd in an open area, be it during a special event or just the daily pedestrian traffic, and you have a massacre.

Or you’ve got an assassination. Put something like the TrackingPoint XS3 into the hands of someone like the Tucson Arizona shooter and he doesn’t have to get up close and personal with his weapon to ensure a lethal shot. All he has to do is find the right event with a clear view, even just a clear view while the target is walking to and from their car to the building, and they can make their shot from 400, 500, 600 or 700 yards away with a guarantee of accuracy that they would never have had before and the ability to be gone before anyone arrives to stop them or detain them.

At this point this thing is hitting the market. That seems to be a done deal. And, with the gun lobby being what it is these days, the only thing that’s changing that fact would be a TrackingPoint XS3 or a next gen model of the system used to assassinate a beloved figure of the Right. But regulation may not be too much to ask for here.

This thing should see its sales regulated almost to the degree of full auto weapons in this country and registration of ownership should be implemented and enforced to the Nth degree. There should be no sales where registration of ownership is not documented whether or not the sales are made via a licensed gun dealer or two guys meeting up at the local gun show. If you own it, it’s registered. If you sell it, it’s documented.

This thing is not like a typical hunting rifle or a high end shotgun. This thing is not even like one of the various guns on the market that frequently get labeled as an assault weapon in the various news stories that follow every mass shooting we see these days. No, this thing is, as I called it above, essentially an integrated weapons system that just happens to look like a rifle. This is a one shot, one kill, almost no skill sniper’s rifle that gives almost anybody, the “right” kind of person or the “wrong” kind of person, the ability to make precision shots at anywhere from 100 to 1,103 yards. And as the price of the tech in this thing comes down, it will start to become more and more available to just about anybody.

I’m not anti-gun. I’m all in favor of gun ownership and of people enjoying a day on the range or a day in the woods. Or even a day on the range that is a day in the woods as some of my friends can do with the size of the property they own. I’m not even against the idea of some people collecting firearms the way some others collect baseball cards. Everybody has their thing that brings them joy.

But I’m definitely in favor of using some common sense when placing new weapons on the market. Putting this weapon on the market and not having it under tighter, stricter regulations than your average Winchester SX3 Cantilever Buck hunting rifle does not particularly strike me as common sense. And given the trends in our country, given the mass shootings that we’ve seen and the fact that over half of the top ten deadliest mass shootings in this country have all taken place in around just the last decade, putting weapons like this on the market without stricter regulations and registration seems the exact opposite of common sense.

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