“I will admit,” Lowenstein writes, “that I have not always been a responsible gun owner."
(Tattoo by Nate Daugherty, Ukiah Tattoo Company)
  • “I will admit,” Lowenstein writes, “that I have not always been a responsible gun owner." (Tattoo by Nate Daugherty, Ukiah Tattoo Company)
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On the Fourth of July this summer, a free app appeared in Google Play Store to help Americans make neighborhoods safer from the misuse of guns. Brett Stalbaum, who is 46 and has been a lecturer in the visual arts department at the University of California San Diego for 11 years, created the app in the university’s Walkingtools.net Laboratory for exclusive use on Android phones.

Gun Geo Marker used global positioning technology to allow people to tag the location of dangerous guns and people suggested of dangerous gun practices in their neighborhoods. Once recorded in a database, the information could be accessed by anyone else using the app in the same neighborhood. One might say it was intended as a digital early-warning system to head off potential gun violence or accidental shootings.

A little more than a week later, on July 13, Gun Geo Marker had been disabled.

Stalbaum explains by email: “The project suffered numerous hacking attacks that filled the database with false info.” In his view, “anti-gun-safety types also used the app itself as a tool for mischief. It is sad to see, but also something that I grudgingly admit I have a certain level of respect for as an electronic activist myself.”

He knew his project would draw fire. On the app’s website, Stalbaum already had written: “I am all too aware of a small component of the community that sees any attempt at improving gun safety as an affront to their Second Amendment rights.... So, the project is also a culture-jamming exercise intended to draw out earnest expressions from the radical anti-gun-safety community.”

Again by email, Stalbaum explains: “Culture jamming — a practice that many artists are involved in — is creating disruptions or disturbances within mainstream media discourses that problematize an issue and change the flow of the conversation. The Gun Geo Marker drew an explosion of paranoid rage that marks this moment in the national gun debate, although I would have much preferred a version of this project where more gun owners realized that facilitating the safe use and handling of firearms as a community is the best path toward preserving our Second Amendment rights.”

The Tables Turn

Stalbaum probably did not expect anyone to accuse him of participating in the activity he condemned: unsafe handling of firearms. Yet that’s what happened on several message boards for gun enthusiasts, including Calguns.net. Several contributors to the site posted and captioned pictures that originally appeared on the Facebook pages of Stalbaum’s wife.

In one picture, a woman is shown in arid terrain aiming what gun experts have told me is a .22-caliber rifle. With the butt of the rifle against her shoulder, she has her finger on the trigger and appears ready to fire. A caption to the picture supplied by the Calguns contributor observes that she is using no eye or ear protection.

Another image, much darker, shows a second woman loosely holding what appears to be the same gun, not preparing to fire but with her finger on the trigger. To her right in the back, sits Brett Stalbaum, so identified by the caption, and between them stands a bottle of Jameson whiskey.

One post in the Calguns forum claims the pictures were taken “at Stalbaum’s Julian address.” The contributor went so far as to provide an aerial photograph of the land, the U.S. Geodetic Survey topographic map locator, and the coordinates to look for the property. From that information, he concludes that the firing had taken place “across two roads, and as far as I can tell it’s completely flat and there is no natural backstop until well after the [second] road.”

I speak about the pictures with Marshall Loewenstein, 44, who owns a small collection of guns and considers himself to be a scrupulous practitioner of gun safety. Loewenstein has a master’s degree in computer science from the University of California San Diego and works locally in software marketing. He says he pursues his shooting hobby at firing ranges.

Ear and eye protections are “both for your own safety and for the safety of others around you,” Loewenstein tells me. “If you have an injury while you’re shooting, it could cause you to misfire the weapon, perhaps even at people nearby.

“Also, a cardinal rule of firearm use is that your finger is off the trigger and out of the trigger area until the moment you have the gun aimed where it’s going to be discharged and you are sure it’s time to discharge it.”

Loewenstein admits that nobody in the pictures is drinking alcohol and handling the gun simultaneously. But he finds whiskey in the presence of shooting to be troubling.

“You’d have to stretch your imagination,” he says, “to believe that all or some of the people on the firing line were not consuming alcohol at the same time the firearms were being used. That’s unacceptable from a safety standpoint and immensely hypocritical for a self-professed gun-safety advocate.”

Both Stalbaum and Loewenstein seemingly prefer to remain in the background of the hot rhetoric about guns in the United States, an issue that usually looks more like angry combatants shouting past each other than a civil discussion.

For this story, Loewenstein and I spoke four or five times by phone. On July 14, I contacted Stalbaum for his response to the characterizations of his and his wife’s behavior as pictured in the Calguns forum. Could I meet him somewhere? He responded the following day, requesting that we discuss the matter, and Gun Geo Marker, by email.

“I will admit,” he writes, “that I have not always been a responsible gun owner, and in some ways, that is where this story starts. In the United States through many different means (be it from a family member to a child or a private sale in many states), guns can be transferred from person to person without background checks or so much as a pamphlet about gun safety.

“There was a time when we and a good friend, also a gun owner, were firing a .22 at the location of a fixer-upper we had just purchased. Fortunately, a neighbor left us a thoughtful note about our bad behavior, and that really rocked me. It got me thinking about how communities and neighborhoods might better participate in promoting gun safety. My neighbors had something to teach me, and I was ready to listen. Then as I became more aware how this kind of casual, uninformed use of firearms also contributes to child deaths…, I became an advocate of safely securing guns around children and of universal background checks, all of this concurrently with becoming an ever stronger advocate of the Second Amendment, which is sincere and real.

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CaptainObvious Nov. 16, 2013 @ 7:25 a.m.

If the app worked as intended, it would be a map showing the houses to not rob, leaving blank spaces where the sheep live.


shirleyberan Nov. 16, 2013 @ 4:34 p.m.

I don't think an app can find where illegal guns are located.


jnojr Nov. 17, 2013 @ 8:38 a.m.

Ahh, but when someone believes all guns should be illegal (or just illegal for everyone else, but they should be one of the special annointed elite), an app like this starts to make sense, in a twisted way.


Visduh Nov. 16, 2013 @ 10:27 p.m.

The many flaws in this scheme are so numerous that it is hard to know where to start. But I'll start with the old-time axiom of early computer users, "garbage in, garbage out." If there were some even slightly reliable source of this data, then the app might have some marginal value in identifying those who MIGHT misuse firearms. But in the absence of such a data base, Stalbaum wants users to report places where firearms are misused, or might be misused, or are stored, or . . . something. And then that will somehow prevent kids from being injured or killed. The connection is tenuous at best.

This gives him and his supporters grounds to then claim that those who don't like this strange process of tattling on your neighbors, or on people you don't like, or on those who have guns and profess to having them for any of a number of legitimate purposes, or . . . , are anti--gun safety. Again, there is not obvious connection. Most of those who have firearms around, and who occasionally use them in shooting sports or for legal hunting, are real bugs on safety. Those folks keep them locked up, unloaded, and definitely away from kids and anyone else who might misuse them.

The untrained person who gets a handgun as "protection" against some vague threat and keeps it in a nightstand, loaded, is the dangerous one. Does the neighbor know about that gun? Most unlikely. And ithe app will not protect a kid visiting the home from finding the piece and firing it unintentionally or heedlessly.

The circular logic used to justify the assembly of the data base and the app to access it is amazing. Just what the real motives are for this proposal isn't clear. After reading the story, can any reader say that Stalbaum is doing anything other than stirring the pot? He can't really think this will make us all safer.


elvishasleftsandiego Nov. 17, 2013 @ 7:52 a.m.

Gun owners are "anti gun safety"? It's this liberal bigotry and ignorance that has convinced millions of former Californians to flee the state. But please continue. California is increasing it's efforts to disarm the populace, and opening the flood gates to illegal immigration. Got news for you--Mexico's drug cartel violence is coming to San Diego, given it's proximity to the border. So keep encouraging them to come in. And please, give them welfare and unemployment, and drivers licenses so that they can vote illegally in our elections. One thing we can count on is the end result of ever increasing liberalism--FAILURE


dwbat Nov. 17, 2013 @ 9:55 a.m.

"It's this liberal bigotry and ignorance that has convinced millions of former Californians to flee the state." Huh? I believe most of the people who have left CA moved to states (NV, AZ, etc.) with a lower cost of living.


Visduh Nov. 17, 2013 @ 5:22 p.m.

I'm inclined to agree that it was economic issues that have driven so many people from California in the past decade or two. Nevada and Washington have no state income tax, and for many folks, that is a deal maker without any other considerations. Arizona isn't that much better on taxes, but in some other ways, probably has an edge on cost of living. But there are other considerations that I hear from those who have left, or are considering leaving, and "liberal" and "sanctuary" and "diversity" pop up in conversations about their desire to leave.


timbosocal Jan. 8, 2014 @ 8:10 a.m.

For everyone's safety maybe we should just identify all gun owners and potential gun owners. Maybe we could have them sew a yellow star on their clothes. That method of singling out groups in the past has worked out so well.


timbosocal Jan. 8, 2014 @ 8:28 a.m.

He talks about the app being "hacked" and full of false info. What did the app do to verify ALL data? If someone finds out I'm a gun owner and marks my property, what did he do to verify that I was an unsafe handler of firearms? Was the info only false if it was not what he wanted?

This was just another attempt to target law abiding citizens and label them as outside the mainstream.


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