We're watching the familiar stock footage from security cameras of the May 7 incident. In a federal building in New Mexico, people are going about their daily business: renewing permits, going to testify in court, collecting or dropping off parcels. Several Guplicates fan out among the crowd. Nobody pays them much attention.
The footage is mercifully interrupted just before the explosion, by a cut to Halwaz's view of Jim Daji of the Bureau of Firearms and Explosives. He is short, stocky, balding in a ring pattern, and wears a Bureau windcheater jacket. There is a table in front of him with three items: an object that looks like a Techno-Cubist grain of rice, a laminated card, and a handgun.
"The designers of Gu," he tells you, "are brilliant people, and were very careful to ensure that Gu would make a really poor weapon. For which we're duly grateful. But what they didn't think through was that something that isn't itself a weapon can be used to carry a weapon. That's what makes it militarily useful, and also what makes it useful to terrorists such as the May 7 bombers."
"Because it's difficult to stop?"
"Exactly, because it's difficult for an unarmed civilian, without special equipment, to stop a Guplicate. Also, because it's easy to conceal a weapon inside Gu. And finally, because you no longer need to recruit people fanatical enough to blow themselves up or advance into a hail of bullets. They can commit their crimes from locations where they are at no personal risk whatsoever, provided they don't get caught."
"Hence, the limiting laws on Guplicates."
"Exactly. Which has led to a lovely constitutional headache over the right to bear arms." He taps on the table next to the grain of techno-rice.
"This is the technology of the concealed-carry provisions which apply in most states," he says. "This little gizmo is an implanted identity verifier, of course. No state mandates that all citizens must bear one of these, but practically all states which allow concealed carry of deadly weapons mandate them as a condition of a concealed-carry permit, which is what this is." He taps the laminated card.
"Both the IDVIA - the identity verifying implantable autoresponder - and the permit contain RFID tags which return data when queried, as does the gun. The IDVIA and the gun both have different forms of biometric authentication so that they can't be used by anyone except the registered owners, which is a safety feature as well, of course - an attacker can't get your gun off you and use it against you. And throughout most settled areas are RFID readers which query the tags and post back to our database, where we do a three-way match. No three-way match, a flag goes up and a human gets involved. The codes are anonymized - it requires a search warrant to match our data with another database which would identify the person by name, and that would normally only be issued if there was a gun crime reported in the area. But we do expose the anonymized data as a web service to law enforcement agencies, so that they can spot if there's a convergence of armed individuals in any particular area.
"So if a wide-band holography scan, as used in most sensitive or crowded areas these days, detects that you're carrying, you better have a permit and a three-way match, or be prepared for some questions, which are likely to be asked by large police Guplicates appearing suddenly out of the floor on either side of you. Now, to most people all of this is quite sensible, though there are always the extremists who consider any form of gun monitoring to be the beginning of the apocalypse, even when it has a dozen safeguards built in so that someone carrying a gun for lawful self-defense has nothing to worry about. Where the real controversy comes in, though, is over whether your Guplicate can carry your gun. Just exactly because a Guplicate with a gun is much more dangerous than a person with a gun."
Anthony Balboa is a constitutional lawyer, and looks it: sharp gray three-piece suit, bound books behind a big oak desk, retro glasses with built-in visual overlay tech. He leans toward you.
"The big constitutional issue," he says, "is, does the individual's right to bear arms - assuming that there is one, which is not an uncontroversial view - does it extend to one's Guplicate, or not? On the one side, it's argued that since crimes committed via Guplicate are prosecuted as if they were committed in person, the reverse also applies; rights which apply in person also apply via Guplicate. Against this, it's argued that a Guplicate is merely a tool, that applying the right to bear arms to it is no different from applying it to, say, a remote-controlled aircraft."
Cut to archive footage of the Supreme Court trial Jimson et al. v. State of Nebraska. Balboa is presenting his closing arguments.
"The pro-gun lobby has a saying," he says in oratory tones. "'Guns don't kill people; people kill people.' In other words, a gun is a tool, without moral culpability; moral culpability - and rights - belong to legal persons, not to tools. In exactly the same way, a Guplicate is a tool. It is not prosecuted for crimes; its operator is. And so, it does not have rights; its operator does. Its operator's rights do not extend to it, and so I submit that this Court should rule that the right to bear arms as a natural person and a citizen does not extend to any Guplicate under that citizen's control."
Back to Balboa's office. "We won Jimson," he says. "But it's still controversial. Farmers like Jimson want to be able to patrol their own properties with weapons if they expect attempted thefts, and they want to be able to do so in safety, which means, by Guplicate. On the face of it this isn't unreasonable, but we had to make the constitutional point. It's not acceptable in our society to have armed, privately owned Guplicates wandering about, particularly because there is no reliable way as yet to authenticate who is actually in control of them."
Back to Daji.
"The May 7 terrorists were disgruntled ex-US military, mostly from Gulf War 3," he says. "They were controlling their Guplicates from just a few streets away. But apart from a bit of satellite lag, there's nothing to prevent someone in, oh, let's say, to take a random example, Saudi Arabia or Yemen, doing exactly the same. Of course all Guplicates display standard metadata showing the location of their operators, but the system's quite hackable by a determined professional; I'm not a cybercrime expert, obviously, but I understand that there's only so much you can do to prevent that, and it's never going to be enough. Our only protection is to forbid Guplicates from carrying any kind of offensive weaponry, and to be ready to spot them doing so and bring them down immediately. There's only so much you can do to prevent them, but we do everything we can. I mean, there was that serial killer, the Cornell Suffocater, who covered his victims' mouths and noses with Gu. How do you stop that? But it's not going to be an effective terrorist tactic against a mass target, is it?"