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New Worry: RFID Tracking Chips in Firearms?

Written By : Warner Todd Huston
September 12, 2011

The Italians have caused an outrage among American firearms customers. A Italian company named Chiappa Firearms sent out a press release (in Italian) last week announcing that it will soon be putting inside each firearm it manufactures an RFID chip (Radio Frequency Identification) meant to track quality control, inventory, and shipping. American gun owners and consumers were whipped into a frenzy of suspicion and fear that government agents will be able to use these RFID chips to track their firearms. But what are the facts and will these RFID tags become common with all firearms manufacturers in the near future?

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First of all there is a lot of fear about the capabilities of governments to use RFID chips for nefarious purposes. These are devices that can radio information to someone with a device as inexpensive as $250 and without any “approval” needed for the reading. These chips can relay all sorts of information from location, to detailed records of all sorts.

There are several different kinds of chips but most uses require non-powered chips that can only be read at short distances. In other words we are told that a satellite orbiting in space cannot read a non-powered RFID chip from that distance. Some chips can only be read for a few feet others a few meters.

Despite all the poo pooing that advocates of RFID chips release to ease people’s minds, this identification technology is far easier to misuse than any other ID technology ever invented. But that does not make RFID chips all bad, either.

The fact is, RFID chips are a dream device for manufacturers to identify their products from fabrication all the way to delivery of final products to retail customers. It makes life much easier for companies trying to track their work, improve their process, and make more money.

Companies like Walmart already use RFID chips and so do many others. Book sellers, libraries, even ranchers and farmers use RFID chips to keep track of their livestock.

But, let’s face it, guns are not books or sheep. They are something else entirely and bring a whole different level of fear, paranoia and suspicion to the discussion. Not without good reason, too.

Chiappa Firearms makes modern firearms but also makes reproductions of antique firearms like the late 1800s/early 1900s Sharp’s Rifle so the government regulations governing Chiappa’s products vary widely. The company’s products are pretty varied as firearms go, as well.

For it’s part Chiappa Firearms is saying they intend only to use the RFID chips in their firearms for quality control and shipping purposes not so the U.S. government can track firearms owners.

Further, Chiappa says that this RFID process will be de rigueur for every firearms maker in the next few years. Firearms owners better get used to the idea, they say. Also, it is a new mandate by the Italian government so they don’t have a choice.

Chiappa dismisses worried about their chips saying that the RFID tags can be easily removed by the gun buyer. They are simply hot glued into the grip area of their pistols (I’m not sure where they are in their rifles) and can be flecked out with a knife tip.

Not surprisingly, none of this has made gun owners in the U.S. feel any better about the chips.

A gun blog called TheTruthAboutGuns.com was one of the first to report Chiappa’s announcement about adding RFID to their manufacturing process. The blog was not happy about it, to be sure. The blog worries that even as Chiappa says their chips can’t be reprogrammed from simple manufacturing needs to long distance tracking it will be too easy to change them into something else. “Chiappa says that the chips can’t be re-programmed, but someone somewhere will figure it out,” they said on the blog post.

Which leads me to wonder how much in sales will this end up costing them? While there may be several advantages to this new technology, as it applies to Chiappa’s manufacturing process, I can’t help but wonder how people will abuse it. Tech savvy criminals have already found out how to exploit the RFID chips that are in new credit cards, what’s to stop them from exploiting this new application too?

Unfortunately, the realist in me realizes that anything the Brady Bunch (Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence) or Mayors Against Illegal Guns would like raises the hair on the back of my neck for a good reason.

The Orlando Gun Lawyer is equally skeptical that the chips won’t be used to track individual gun owners. “It’s Italian government mandated, and while they claim “big brother” is not currently electronically monitoring your firearm — you’d better remove the sucker before they do,” he writes.

The Firearms Blog is also worried that the chips are not just passive devices but can be read “at long ranges.”

Not to be outdone, dozens of gun-themed message boards are enflamed with the topic.

The U.S. distributor of Chiappa firearms has not helped the situation by issuing a press release that essentially calls potential American customers idiots for worrying about the RFID tags.

Check out the disdain and disrespect that MKS Distributing has shown for its own customers:

Recently there has been some blogger activity concerning Chiappa Firearms putting a RFID (radio frequency identification) in Chiappa Firearms. Yes, but Chiappa will not be using the RFID system for at least a year.

RUMOR: The erroneous information about some sort of “chip” was put out by a blogger who translated Chiappa (Italian) technical information incorrectly. The incorrect translation and his interpretation came out as some sort of a GPS type tracking “chip” -which RFID isn’t as it cannot transmit anything-it has NO power source (unlike cell phones).

THE FACTS: Recently several Italian gun makers (not just Chiappa) decided to utilize RFID technology to improve manufacturing and provide more accurate inventory control. We guarantee this technology will proliferate to other gun makers world wide as it is so efficient for everything from production QC control to export/import varification. Other industries already use passive RFID technology such as on DVDs, sunglasses, clothes and even some food products for example.

Basically Chiappa RFID (again it is radio frequency identification) assists the manufacturing process, inventory control and shipping. The type of information on the RFID ties in the firearm and proof house verification; the latter is required by the Italian Government for all firearms made in Italy. Passive RFID is also a final check that verifies that what is inside the sealed box is the same thing as shown on the box exterior bar code during shipping. Now, it will no longer be necessary to open/inspect hundreds of boxes by hand prior to packing in export containers.

BOTTOM LINE: The Chiappa PASSIVE RFID can be read ONLY when passed within (2-3 inches) of an active (and powered) reader that is dialed in for the particular long antenna radio frequency of the RFID-this is not random. And it will NOT go into operation for a year or more.

SUMMARIZING: RFIDs have NO power source or GPS locator. Rest assured they are NOT transmitting your identification and location information to a Chiappa Firearm tasked CIA satellite.

RFID Removal: For those still concerned you can simply remove the grip and remove the hot glued RFID from the frame in the grip area when (over a year from now) these begin to appear. Others may prefer to wrap the revolver and their head in aluminum foil, curl in a ball and watch reruns of Mel Gibson’s 1997 film, Conspiracy Theory. Well, that’s a plan too!

Sheese. Telling customers to “wrap their head in aluminum foil” is not the best way to engender customer loyalty, is it?

In any case, what we have here is a clash between technology and privacy concerns — not to mention Constitutional rights — a clash that won’t be easily solved by a snarky press release and bland denouncements from government mandated programs.

**UPDATE**

Chiappa Firearms has released a new info sheet explaining its intentions with the RFID chips. (See a .PDF here)

The company reports that it has received “a lot of mail expressing disappointment about the RFID project.” Some of them “were very offensive,” the company claims. But the avalanche of letters and email did help them “understand the position of the US market,” they said in the press release.

Chiappa says that a big factor in adopting an RFID system was based on government regulations in their native Italy. The firearms need to be identified several times in the Italian proofing system and this necessitates an easy ID system.

Finally, the company says that the feedback has convinced them to make the RFID chip even more easily removed by having the chip in a plastic sticker on the outside of the trigger guard, something that can just be peeled off once the firearm goes up for sale to the public.

“The US consumer can rest assured that Chiappa Firearms is placing the customer’s interest first and foremost, while developing the most efficient method of firearm manufacturing possible,” they assure customers.

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