Children continue to die
Recently, on the Gun Geo Marker website, which remains intact despite the app’s having been disabled, Stalbaum wrote in response to the death of a three-year-old child in Yellowstone National Park. The toddler shot herself after picking up an unsecured pistol her father had left lying about.
“Irresponsible gun owners continue to accidentally kill their children,” said Stalbaum. “How long, America? Because all we are doing is clawing the guns from the cold, dead hands…of our children.
“How many of you know a gun owner who refuses to use a trigger lock when storing guns around kids only because of some strange paranoia about personal protection? Shouldn’t you talk to them? Shouldn’t someone talk to them? Are your children playing in the homes where adults improperly secure their firearms?
“Guns don’t kill children, but children do sometimes shoot themselves or family members to death with guns irresponsibly stored by adults…. [The Yellowstone incident] is just another death that might have been prevented if only neighborhoods had the information they need to support gun safety accountability.”
But Loewenstein does not think something like Gun Geo Marker could have prevented the death. What possible good can it do? he asks. He believes the issue is one of “personal responsibility [on the part of] adult owners of firearms. No matter what laws are made, there are going to be tragedies and accidents. Most of the recent tragedies are dominated by mental health issues.”
And when people are “confronted by the media with very graphic stories, they often end up committing a psychological fallacy. What happens is you over-ascribe importance to it just because it’s graphic. Well, accidental poisonings, automobile accidents, and deaths in swimming pools all outnumber the total number of children’s deaths by firearms.”
Those other child deaths, according to Loewenstein, are “more isolated, are not covered by the media, and they don’t have such a graphic or emotional content to them. So what happens? We become complacent.
“It may sound callous for people to be speaking out against things that are ostensibly targeted at the safety of children — no one wants to encourage using dangers for children — but people do need to refocus on areas that are far more important and where far greater gains can be made.”
Another app to protect children
I ask both men if they’d like to compare Gun Geo Marker to the recently activated Operation Predator app, a tool that is “designed to seek the public’s help with fugitive and unknown suspect child predators.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which is the “largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security”) has made the Operation Predator app available for iPhones, with plans to expand the program to other smartphones in the future. The app allows users to view pictures of child predators known only through images in pornographic material. Once a predator is recognized in the images, a user of the app can immediately notify federal officials of the person’s identity and possible whereabouts. Within hours of the app’s release in mid-September, someone located for authorities a Michigan man, who was immediately arrested.
A thought experiment
In a more recent email, Brett Stalbaum discusses both Gun Geo Marker and the Operation Predator app in the same category of new technology that allows the public to assist law enforcement in deterring dangerous behavior. In what he calls a “thought experiment,” he compares reaction against such devices to how he thinks many people could have experienced the telephone when it was first made available to the public more than 130 years ago.
The thought experiment suggests possible concerns at that time. “What if the things people are saying to each other over the phones are inaccurate? Is there any provision in this new technology to ensure people are speaking true things? And what if criminals start to use these newfangled wired voice devices to alert other criminals to the fact that a gun owner is not at home right now, and their guns, hoarded ammo (and maybe the gold coins covered under backyard earth) are ready to steal? Isn’t this a clear and present and egregious violation of my second, fourth, fifth, and eighteenth amendment rights?”
He concludes: “I don’t have much more to say than: ‘Progress happens.’”
But despite conceivable abuses, the Operation Predator app, unlike Gun Geo Marker, has so far drawn little to no criticism. That would make sense to Loewenstein, who notes that, besides the obvious similarities of public participation and the intention to help children, the two apps are “very different.”
He explains, “The primary difference is that reports to Operation Predator app are not immediately posted with public visibility. They are simple leads [to law enforcement].” Persons suspected of committing a crime would then enjoy a presumption of innocence until they are found guilty. They would have “all the rights afforded to them through the Constitution and judicial system.”
But “if a person is found guilty of a crime, especially a felony, they should expect to lose some of their rights such as the right to privacy and thus be included in this app. This contrasts with the Gun Geo Marker, where there is a presumption of guilt. The presumption could be made by a person unlikely to have the requisite expertise about any laws or safety rules which may or may not have been broken. Lastly, because of the lack of judicial involvement, the Gun Geo Marker offers no recourse for those who, either with or without ill intent, are [erroneously named as dangerous] in the app.”
The future of Gun Geo Marker
Many of the statements on the Gun Geo Marker website make Loewenstein feel that Stalbaum “probably believes that anybody who is strongly pro–Second Amendment is also a radical anti-gun-safety person. And that’s a gross mischaracterization. It’s just not true. There’s a very large and smooth spectrum of people from pro-gun rights to anti-gun rights.”
Despite the wide spectrum, Loewenstein complains, Stalbaum has used the Walkingtools.net Laboratory at University of California San Diego to advocate a narrow position. Public funds, he thinks, must have been used.