Let me state up front that I believe in the constitutional right of Americans to own firearms. It's been our tradition for centuries, and the Supreme Court has affirmed the right. The Supreme Court also said in the same ruling that regulations and restrictions were allowed. Presumably, a ban on private citizens owning rocket launchers and fully automatic machine guns are acceptable. Congress also has the power to set manufacturing standards on pretty much any product sold across state line. So, if they wanted to mandate limits on the size of ammo magazines, I can't think of any legal impediment to this, only political ones. A sizable number of Americans don't feel safe unless they can fire 30 bullets without reloading, and they elect politicians who feel the same way, and, for the foreseeable future, they are going to hold the majority in the house and at least a filibuster sized plurality in the senate. This isn't purely a Republican/Democrat split, either. There are plenty of Democratic senators and congressmen with A ratings from the NRA.
This isn't a politically correct thing to say so soon after the Newtown shooting, but, statistically, guns really aren't all that dangerous. There are something like 300 million guns in the US, and about 20,000 gun deaths a year from these. We have a similar number of cars, and they contribute to over 30,000 deaths per year. Of course, the vast majority of these automobile deaths are accidental. But, a fair number of the gun deaths are accidental as well. I haven't found precise numbers I trust while googling this morning, but I feel safe to say that the number of children killed each year in accidents playing with their families guns far exceeds the number of children each year murdered in mass shootings, probably by a wide margin.
Restrictions on the sale of guns are partially negated by the fact that guns are a popular target of theft. According to the BATF, over 25,000 guns are reported stolen each year. Again I don't have statistics, but my gut instinct is that stolen guns are probably used for criminal purposes far more often than legally purchased guns. If you're willing to steal a gun, you probably don't have many qualms about robbing a convenience store.
But, automobiles are also attractive targets of theft, and we take precautions to reduce the numbers of thefts, such as putting locks on the doors and on the ignition. To reduce the number of accidental deaths, we require seat belts and airbags and such safety niceties as headlights and windshield wipers and brakes. Most states also require annual inspections to make sure the safety systems are in good working order.
Couldn't manufacturers be required to implement similar safety standards for new guns? For instance, my wife's car has a wireless ignition key. She just sits in the car and presses a button to turn it on. Couldn't guns be built with a wireless safety? The legal owner of the gun could have a small radio key that he wears on a key chain or embedded in a watch. When he holds the gun, the safety can be switched off. If anyone else picks up the gun without the radio key, the safety can't be unlocked. This means that toddlers can't find the gun in their daddy's nightstand and accidentally shoot someone thinking it's a toy. If the gun is stolen, it's just a useless lump of metal. But, if you have a friend in town who wants to borrow a gun to go hunting, no problem. You just loan them the radio key.
Obviously, this does nothing to make the 300 million guns already in circulation safer. And, with so many guns, there will be a black market that persists for decades. But, changes made today could make the average gun safer fifty years from now. The cost of guns would rise a trivial amount, and firearm owners would be slightly inconvenienced by having to purchase a new battery for their key every couple of years. But, the trade off of knowing that your gun is less likely to be stolen, or accidentally discharged by someone when you aren't home, seems like a bonus for legal gun owners. And, unlike trigger locks, which gun owners oppose since it would slow them down if they needed to grab their gun to protect against a home invader, if you have the key built into a watch, the second you pick up the gun it's ready to go.
To respond to a few objections I anticipate, yes, I'm sure criminals could hack the lock system. But, why bother, when they could just find one of the older guns without the radio locks? If your gun had the lock, they probably wouldn't take the time to steal it. No, I don't think this would do much to deter mass shootings. Most take place with legally purchased guns. But, again, accidental deaths are a statistically more significant problem than mass shootings. And, yes, I know that most accidents are ones the legal owners inflict on themselves. But, just because all the safety systems on cars don't stop people from driving off cliffs is no reason to repeal the requirements that we all wear seat belts. The goal here is to mitigate, not eliminate.
So, what am I missing? Why wouldn't this one small change help, over the long term, make guns less likely to hurt someone accidentally or be used for a crime after being stolen?