New cell phone app shows nearest gun-free zones

Robby Soave | Reporter

A new cell phone app will let people know whether the building they are about to enter is a gun-free zone.

The Gun Free Zone app uses the GPS tracking system in smart phones. Users will see a map of their surrounding area, including a list of the 20 nearest public places and whether they allow permit guns.

By itself, the app has no way of knowing where the gun-free zones are. That information will be supplied by users, who are prompted to mark a box indicating whether a given location allows guns. The app keeps track of how many people marked a spot as gun-friendly or gun-free, and provides such information to all users. It does not gather data on private homes.

Founder John Peden feels strongly that gun free zones are more dangerous than gun friendly zones. And as a gun owner, he doesn’t want to shop at a store that doesn’t respect his right to self-defense. The app will help all consumers make smarter choices about frequenting stores that share their values, he said.

“If my gun is not welcome in your store, my money is not welcome either,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Some users, on the other hand, may prefer to visit only public places where guns are banned. Peden noted that Piers Morgan, a CNN host and vocal supporter of gun control, could use the app to avoid gun-friendly places.

“I’m sure that Piers Morgan will use it for the opposite reason [than me],” he said. “He’s going to want to shop in all the gun free zones he can.”

Balancing the privacy of gun owners with public safety concerns has been at the forefront of national policy debate lately. In January, The Journal News’s decision to publish an online database listing the home addresses of New York gun permit holders prompted a widespread backlash from those who worried that the list violated gun owners’ privacy–and made residents who didn’t own guns vulnerable to criminals.

Peden admitted that it was possible for criminals to use the app to target public places where they know they won’t meet armed resistance. But he stressed that the opposite was also true — consumers could use the app to steer clear of gun-free zones, which he believes are more dangerous.

“I think gun-free zones are high crime areas, so me and my family will stay safe and we have less chance of being involved in a shooting at a mall or something like that,” he said.

Peden cited reports that mass shooter James Holmes specifically targeted the only gun-free movie theater near him as evidence that criminals and psychopaths can be well informed and deliberate about their crimes. Law-abiding citizens can keep themselves safer if they have better access to that same information, Peden said.

Peden’s team is working on modifying the app so that users’ phones will alert them when they enter a gun free zone. In some states, it is illegal to bring guns into a gun free zone–rather than merely impermissible–and Peden hopes the app could help prevent unintentional crimes.

“We want to make it so that if you walk into that store, the phone knows where you are and it will buzz and ask you are you carrying your weapon with you?” he said.

Developing this capability is tricky, though, because Google is inexact about property lines, and may not be able to render accurate information about when a user has crossed into gun-free territory.

The app is available for free from the Apple App Store on iPhone. So far about 5,000 people have downloaded it, tagging some 10,000 locations as gun free or gun friendly.

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