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Smart Gun
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 • Posted May 2, 2013

The Chinese, I’m told, invented gunpowder sometime during the ninth century, but did very little with it, besides making bombs (to blow one another up) and fireworks (to blow themselves up). They may have used crude ‘guns’ made from bamboo and stuffed with powder and projectiles, but I’d classify those under one of the above uses. Or both, probably.

Gunpowder, made from charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfer, was transported to Europe during the 13th century, but it got wet on the way, so it had to be transported again, later, after the umbrella was invented. Europeans, namely the French, finally invented guns during the 15th century. The first was the ‘arquebus,’ which was used mostly to invent French curse words, when it didn’t go off, or went off when it wasn’t supposed to, or went off when it was supposed to but did more harm to the shooter than the target, or was dropped on someone’s foot.

A major drawback with the arquebus, and subsequent firearms, was that it was inaccurate. Someone finally invented sights during the 16th century, but those were pretty much useless, as projectile flight was unpredictable. The situation came to a head in 1791 when King George of England shot himself in the foot while trying to off Marie Antionette. Or maybe it was Marie Curie. I’m pretty sure it was a Marie.

Anyway, the King hobbled around shouting something like ‘Lands sakes!’ which led to the invention of ‘lands,’ which are grooves spiraling up the inside of a gun barrel, creating the rifle. The lands make the bullet spin, and cause it to be more accurate, thus sparing kings’ feet and fellow soldiers the world over.

Sights were actually somewhat useful once rifles were invented, but the biggest advancement in firearms technology came during the early 1800s, with the invention of the gun rack.

No, wait, that was later, after the invention of the pickup. Sometime between 1835 and 1840 Morgan James, of Utica, NY, invented the telescopic sight. That changed things, let me tell you. Suddenly distant targets seemed close, and total accuracy was achieved. Sort of.

The first scopes were great as long as the weather was dry, the sun was out, and the ambient temperature was between 72 and 73 degrees. Well, they weren’t quite that sensitive, but close. Scopes have improved over the years, but the basic design hasn’t. For example, you still have to make sure your head isn’t too close to the eyepiece when you shoot a rifle that’s .30 caliber or bigger, or you’re likely to get ‘scope eye,’ a condition that causes red stuff to run down your nose.

I figured we’d pretty much seen all the advances in scope technology we ever would, but as usual, I was wrong. A company called Tracking Point has recently come out with a sighting system that makes it so hard to miss a target it can only be described as ‘cheating.’

This is not, however, just a scope, that you can take out of the box, mount on top of your rifle, and start banging away. It’s an entire sighting system that has to be incorporated into your gun, with a special trigger and other parts I won’t reveal here, since I have no idea what they are. Tracking Point is less a scope than a lifestyle.

The concept has been around a long time, and it resembles the aiming devices used in the weapons systems installed in fighter jets more than anything else. When a fighter pilot gets close enough to a ‘bogey’ to allow his onboard ‘computer’ to obtain a ‘lock’ on the enemy ‘plane,’ he pulls the ‘trigger’ to shoot, but his missle doesn’t fire until it’s lined up correctly. At least that’s what I’ve been ‘told.’

The Tracking Point system works kind of like that. The scope itself, the part that mounts on top of the rifle, looks like three scopes in a pyramid pattern. There is also the special trigger, and a red button mounted at the front of the triggerguard. The system does not, contrary to rumor, dispense cold beverages and calculate simple interest.

The shooter sees a black dot through the scope, which is adjustable up to 35 power. When he gets the black dot lined up on the target, he pushes the red button to ‘tag’ the target. The tag is a red dot that stays on target, even when the scope is moved, or the target moves, or both. If it’s not in exactly the right spot, the shooter deletes that tag and tries again.

Once he’s tagged the target, he sees reticle lines in an X shape, with a small circle in the center, through the scope. The system calculates the range, and adjusts for distance internally. The shooter than pulls and holds the trigger, whereupon the reticle turns red. It stays that way until he manages to get the scope lined up with the tag spot again, and then, even if he’s only on target for an instant, the rifle fires, and the bullet goes exactly where the tag spot is.

Actually I started to invent this system myself, a few years ago, but I figured it would only cause me trouble, having to come up with a reason for misses, since I would no longer be able to blame them on my equipment. But even I could make long, one-shot hits with the Tracking Point.

Well, that’s what Darren Jones, a Tracking Point rep, tells me. He’s agreed to let me try it out soon, so I’ll let you know how it goes. Darren says it’s idiot proof. Well, we’ll see about that . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who closes his eyes when he shoots. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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