A US future law question

Mirannan

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#1
This is related to a recent thread about laser weapons development.

US law only, although UK law might also need some work. What is the legal definition of a firearm? And is it adequate for near-future weapons such as human-portable lasers and further-future ones such as "phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range"?

AFAIK the US 2nd Amendment covers firearms of much more recent technology than the muzzle-loading flintlocks of the Revolutionary War era. Does it also cover energy weapons - or exotica such as killdrones loaded with small (single target) shaped charges, or grey goo bombs?

Perhaps relevant is the probability that matching the gun to the damage might be a lot more difficult with a plasma scar than with a bullet hole. No projectile left behind for evidence, for a start.

I think this might be an interesting discussion.
 

Overread

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#2
I think even things as simple as electronic instead of mechanical guns also required reclassification and adjustment to firearm owning laws. In general anything new often requires new laws or adjustments to existing laws. The severity and complexity of the situation often dictates how long it can take for new law to come into effect.

It's not abnormal that sometimes the technology gets there before the laws catch up to it (heck the internet is a prime example of where it takes time for governments to catch up to it). So I'd expect the same for new weapons.

As for forensics that's a very complex area and honestly a lot of what we see on the TV is often both either highly simplified and also highly fantastical in what can be done. So its an area where I think unless you are involved with it, chances are its hard to know what is possible even today; let alone be able to predict on the future abilities to detect new technologies.
 

J Riff

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#3
Deadly lasers have been possible for a long time. Someone has been controlling the release of any such weapons, and had better keep doing so.
The worst stuff, they just don't talk about, because why put ideas in people's heads? Why if (deleted) they could (censored) and then (too dangerous) like (etc.etc) tsunamis, earthquakes.... no, just kidding, that's just SciFi babble, nothing happening here, keep moving. :whistle:
 

2DaveWixon

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#5
I have not studied the subject, but my hunch is that in terms of the Law, the word "firearm" will be replaced by "weapon."
 

TheDustyZebra

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#6
Well, first of all, the Second Amendment doesn't say "firearms", it says "arms". That has allowed the technology to progress along the way without causing any great kerfuffle. Although there are always ongoing discussions regarding whether that would allow the populace to be equivalently armed with whatever the military (militia) are using. Started both by people who want to own tanks and by people who don't want them to own tanks.

I don't see how the identifiability of the weapon used to create the damage would be part of the argument, legally speaking, as there was no such thing when the Second Amendment was written. In terms of future-tech applicability, it's probably in the same class with identity-locked weapons, as far as the legal discussion goes -- and that discussion would be the one between the NRA and Congress.
 

Edward M. Grant

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#7
Deadly lasers have been possible for a long time. Someone has been controlling the release of any such weapons, and had better keep doing so.
No, what's kept them off the market is that they just don't work very well with current technology. It's much easier to put a kilojoule of energy into a bad guy with a slug-throwing rifle than a laser. The energy density of gunpowder is better than batteries, and much cheaper.
 

J Riff

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#8
But, in the 60s, we saw them used to.. oh nm. Dollar-store lasers are fun, but some guy was using one to distract the horses in a race. Also, pointing them at low-flying aircraft is apparently not a good idea.
 

Jeffbert

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#9
I heard that they (don't know who) ruled that the sawn-off shotgun was NOT covered by the 2nd Amendment because-- now get this-- it had NO military application.

Noting the term "free state" used in the 2nd Amendment, it seems that perhaps it was intended that the militia of armed civilians would keep the govt from becoming tyrannical, at least if they were armed with military grade weapons.

sorry for injecting politics.

But the eye protection that the guy wore when using lasers far too weak to vaporize humans -- just takes the fun out of death rays. If Kirk had to strap on laser safety goggles before firing upon enemies-- :LOL: That would have taken the fun out of STtos.
 

Overread

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#12
Daft question - but does that mean swords are allowed?
I would assume so; though the technology of war even then was shifting heavily toward the gun. And its guns that get a lot lot more attention than swords. So it wouldn't surprise me if there are swords included under that umbrella, but as they don't generally get used in massacres (at least compared to guns) they likely don't hit the major international news.
 

CTRandall

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#13
I'm not sure about swords but, in general, knives are much more acceptable in the US than the UK. When I first got to the UK, I was surprised when a friend warned me to stop carrying a swiss army knife in my pocket as it could get me arrested.

As for other weapons, remember that there is no single law covering all of the US. (Non-Americans, or "firuners" in the common parlance, often don't understand how big and varied the US is, nor do they get the difference between federal and state law.) Think of the 2nd amendment as a guiding principle which individual states have to interpret. Each state has its own laws and some states are more restrictive than others. Many big cities have restrictions on purchasing ammo, for example, and the requirements for being able to carry concealed weapons varies considerbly (many states require attending a certified training programme). Even something as simple as leaving a hunting rifle out of its case while travelling in a car can is fine in some states while others require that guns be in cases while in vehicles (at least if you're in town, not so much if you're in the countryside).

I'm not sure how the legal system distinguishes between different types of weapons but bombs, for example, are obviously a no-no and the sale of anything with explosive potential, from artillery shells to fertilizer and precursor chemicals, is banned, closely watched and/or regulated. (Though, as a kid well before 9-11, I could go into the local hardware store and buy canisters of gunpowder for reloading shotgun shells. That discovery made for an interesting 4th of July!) At a quick search, it looks like you can legally buy anything up to a 20mm rifle (that's a shell as big around as my thumb) and even a blackpowder, muzzle-loading cannon (as long as you shoot non-explosive shells--safety first!).

My instinct would be that new tech that is expensive and out of reach of the average person (plasma) would be ignored by the legal system. Until some psycho managed to get his hands on it. Only then would the lawmakers wake up and start arguing. My childhood experience illustrates that point. And depending on the destructive capability of the tech (instant boom vs. have to aim at individual targets seems to be the guiding principle), regulation might be a mish-mash of state laws or federal control.

Wow, life is absurd!
 

Edward M. Grant

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#14
I heard that they (don't know who) ruled that the sawn-off shotgun was NOT covered by the 2nd Amendment because-- now get this-- it had NO military application.
Yes, back in the 30s, if I remember correctly. The legal decisions on the second amendment have been largely nonsensical and heavily politicized, as the Supreme Court tried to avoid saying 'you know, the Constitution does say 'shall not be infringed', and maybe they meant it': that decision in particular should have been laughed out of court, because sawn-off shotguns were used in WWI.

Either way, the Constitution implicitly assumes the existence of private warships to issue letters of marque and reprisal to, so clearly cannons were considered 'arms'.
 

Jeffbert

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#15
Yes, back in the 30s, if I remember correctly. The legal decisions on the second amendment have been largely nonsensical and heavily politicized, as the Supreme Court tried to avoid saying 'you know, the Constitution does say 'shall not be infringed', and maybe they meant it': that decision in particular should have been laughed out of court, because sawn-off shotguns were used in WWI.

Either way, the Constitution implicitly assumes the existence of private warships to issue letters of marque and reprisal to, so clearly cannons were considered 'arms'.
Warships? Edward M. Grant, that is wonderful. I will go out & buy one right now! :LOL: Thanks for the post! 'Arms' does cover a much larger sphere of things than just guns. I had not thought of that. :whistle:

I think as it now stands, the Second Amendment is moot, because the govt. can impose tyranny at will, & what are you gonna do? Go against tanks and helicopters with an AR-15 & communicate with smoke signals? They can freeze your assets, tap your phones, watch your every move with all those cameras everywhere. Even HAM radio will not help. Point to point laser communication will be awkward, not much use when fighting a tyrannical govt. Enemy of the State gives an idea of the trouble a govt. run amok can cause.

Back then, just about everyone either owned or was competent using guns. Could not live (long) without them. I was debating the second Amendment with a guy on another forum some time ago, and found references to an English bill of rights, which included a similar provision. I cannot recall if the Articles of Confederation say anything about it, though.
 
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Jeffbert

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#16
I'm not sure about swords but, in general, knives are much more acceptable in the US than the UK. When I first got to the UK, I was surprised when a friend warned me to stop carrying a swiss army knife in my pocket as it could get me arrested.

As for other weapons, remember that there is no single law covering all of the US. (Non-Americans, or "firuners" in the common parlance, often don't understand how big and varied the US is, nor do they get the difference between federal and state law.) Think of the 2nd amendment as a guiding principle which individual states have to interpret. Each state has its own laws and some states are more restrictive than others. Many big cities have restrictions on purchasing ammo, for example, and the requirements for being able to carry concealed weapons varies considerbly (many states require attending a certified training programme). Even something as simple as leaving a hunting rifle out of its case while travelling in a car can is fine in some states while others require that guns be in cases while in vehicles (at least if you're in town, not so much if you're in the countryside).

I'm not sure how the legal system distinguishes between different types of weapons but bombs, for example, are obviously a no-no and the sale of anything with explosive potential, from artillery shells to fertilizer and precursor chemicals, is banned, closely watched and/or regulated. (Though, as a kid well before 9-11, I could go into the local hardware store and buy canisters of gunpowder for reloading shotgun shells. That discovery made for an interesting 4th of July!) At a quick search, it looks like you can legally buy anything up to a 20mm rifle (that's a shell as big around as my thumb) and even a blackpowder, muzzle-loading cannon (as long as you shoot non-explosive shells--safety first!).

My instinct would be that new tech that is expensive and out of reach of the average person (plasma) would be ignored by the legal system. Until some psycho managed to get his hands on it. Only then would the lawmakers wake up and start arguing. My childhood experience illustrates that point. And depending on the destructive capability of the tech (instant boom vs. have to aim at individual targets seems to be the guiding principle), regulation might be a mish-mash of state laws or federal control.

Wow, life is absurd!
I understand why bars want no weapons inside, as drunken men would quickly escalate from words to fists, to knives, to guns, and such, but places that have specific gun prohibitions assume people will heed them. Interesting summary, CTRandall! Thanks.

I was listening to G. Gordon Liddy until he retired a few years ago. I think he especially valued the second Amendment because, as an ex-con, he had lost his right to arms. Well, at least in Maryland, anyway. He frequently talked with listeners about firearms and various local laws regarding them. Yep, they are varied.

My dad had been a member of the Isaac Walton League, years ago. We has a 12 gauge reloading press. He and my brothers would go shoot some clay pigeons every so often. I worked that press when I was bored.
 

Edward M. Grant

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#17
I understand why bars want no weapons inside, as drunken men would quickly escalate from words to fists, to knives, to guns, and such, but places that have specific gun prohibitions assume people will heed them. Interesting summary, CTRandall! Thanks.
Back in the 90s, I met a guy I knew from the Internet in a nightclub in Israel. The group on the table next to us in the bar were building up a big pile of Uzis between their empty glasses, and it was hard to find a safe place to dance without getting hit by the M-16s that many of the girls had slung over their shoulders.

Back on the warships, it was common in the 18th century to increase naval power by issuing letters of marque and reprisal allowing commercial ships to attack and seize the other side's ships. It didn't really go away until the late 19th century: in the War of 1812, both America and Britain lost a lot of freighters to the other sides' amateur warships.

And, yeah, I believe the 2nd Amendment was at least inspired by the British Bill of Rights. If I remember correctly, the King had been prohibiting either Protestants or Catholics from owning guns before the Bill of Rights was passed, and they wanted to ensure he couldn't do that in future. So, a hundred years ago, a convicted criminal could walk out of jail in the UK the day he was released, buy a pistol with no questions asked, and pay 50 pence for a license to carry it. Armed crime was rare and often politically-motivated, but you often see in news reports from that time that passers-by would lend their guns to the unarmed police so they could shoot back.

That was also the era when British governments talking about having 'a submachinegun in every cottage' so the British would be able to repel an invasion from those nasty Continentals.
 

chrispenycate

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#18
Back when I was at university I built a linear accelerator - a rail gun, if you like - out of a piece of plastic drainpipe and wire from the focusing coils of broken TV sets. It would accelerate an aluminium teaspoon to mach 2, and a ball bearing faster than we could measure with available equipment. It would also send a very narrow stream of warm, soapy water about half a mile (depending on wind conditions - I wonder what it could have done with drain cleaner?

Don't worry about laser weapons - they're lousy for antipersonnel weapons, mainly due to the same reason I could never transport the Laithwaite accelerator - power requirements. What we need to eliminate is not single killings, however it might be nice to do that, but massacres, and a battery pack for a laser might hold for one or two emissions. That laser bazooka film wasn't a laser, wasn't coherent radiation - multiple sources combined won't give that, and just look at the demonstration; I could do more damage with a theatre spotlight with a reasonably tight focus.

And nanotech won't manage self replication in any of our lifetimes - any nanobots will be manufactured in factories for quite a while. The only self replicating miniature weapons likely will be organic - and the anthrax cases demonstrate that biological warfare is recognised, and it and chemical (nerve gases and the like) are threats we know how to counter.

What is worrying are the things we don't yet know about, secretly developed (not necessarily for the military) for which no defense is yet even considered, and multi-shot automatic firearms, too many of which are available and their precise position unknown.
 

Mirannan

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#19
Back when I was at university I built a linear accelerator - a rail gun, if you like - out of a piece of plastic drainpipe and wire from the focusing coils of broken TV sets. It would accelerate an aluminium teaspoon to mach 2, and a ball bearing faster than we could measure with available equipment. It would also send a very narrow stream of warm, soapy water about half a mile (depending on wind conditions - I wonder what it could have done with drain cleaner?

Don't worry about laser weapons - they're lousy for antipersonnel weapons, mainly due to the same reason I could never transport the Laithwaite accelerator - power requirements. What we need to eliminate is not single killings, however it might be nice to do that, but massacres, and a battery pack for a laser might hold for one or two emissions. That laser bazooka film wasn't a laser, wasn't coherent radiation - multiple sources combined won't give that, and just look at the demonstration; I could do more damage with a theatre spotlight with a reasonably tight focus.

And nanotech won't manage self replication in any of our lifetimes - any nanobots will be manufactured in factories for quite a while. The only self replicating miniature weapons likely will be organic - and the anthrax cases demonstrate that biological warfare is recognised, and it and chemical (nerve gases and the like) are threats we know how to counter.

What is worrying are the things we don't yet know about, secretly developed (not necessarily for the military) for which no defense is yet even considered, and multi-shot automatic firearms, too many of which are available and their precise position unknown.
The issue of replicating nanobots is IMHO an open one. However, I strongly suspect that tailored micro-organisms are not; one has to remember that the design does not have to be from scratch.

Just as an example, imagine an AIDS variant that has been tweaked for aerial transmission. Or devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) tweaked to affect humans. (Yes, it does exist - google it!)
 

Jeffbert

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#20
...

That was also the era when British governments talking about having 'a submachinegun in every cottage' so the British would be able to repel an invasion from those nasty Continentals.
I watch a lot of old movies, especially WWII ones. At least one was about Brit villages preparing for the Hun invasion. Sorry, I cannot recall details.
 

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