Smart guns given bad name by dumb law

Phil Brown

One of the most widely known pieces of conventional wisdom is that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. However, as has been seen from the discovery of modern vaccines to the invention of wireless internet, there are some very real technological advances that exceed our expectations, if not imaginations.

One of those technological advances which has continually seemed like something from the future is the smart gun. In a world increasingly full of smart devices, it is a wonder that one of the most important tools we could use has not been more widely modernized.

A German firearms manufacturer, Armatix, has met the challenge, however, with their iP1 Personalized handgun, which is effectively locked until a special wristband is brought into close proximity with the firearm itself. The wristband has a customizable five digit code which arms the gun, much like a traditional safety button or switch allows for shots to be fired. While other personalized firearms are being developed, few have received the attention garnered by the high profile iP1.

The iP1 was briefly for sale in California at the Oak Tree Gun Club, although the group has since denied ever offering the firearm in question, following significant blowback from the pro-gun lobby. Similarly, a Maryland gun dealer at Engage Armament decided to sell the smart gun, only to change his mind following criticism and death threats from so-called pro-gun advocates.

That’s right, a gun dealer was threatened with physical violence from those who claim to support Second Amendment rights because he wanted to sell a gun.

The issue taken with the iP1 is that many think its sale in the United States would trigger a New Jersey law which requires that, three years after a “personalized handgun” is available for retail sale anywhere in the country, “no other type of handgun shall be sold or offered for sale by any registered or licensed firearms dealer in [New Jersey].”

As it turns out, the law specifically states that it is triggered not by the sale of a personalized handgun, but by the mere availability of such a firearm for sale, as it was in two separate states. Perhaps that is why Oak Tree in California denied offering the gun for sale even after speaking with national media about their excitement over the new product.

To be perfectly clear, the New Jersey statute banning the sale, transfer or purchase of “dumb” guns is itself a resoundingly dumb idea. On top of the dubious proposition that requiring certain advanced safety features for all gun transactions so recently after their release would even be constitutional, such restrictions only give fuel to the firestorm that has become the American pro-gun lobby.

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, for example, has placed itself squarely in opposition to smart guns. An NRA-ILA press release claims that the group only opposes government mandates on gun sales and “does not oppose new technological developments in firearms.”

Despite that claim, the press release shows a clear bias against smart guns, even saying their name is “a made up term” and that they are “conceptual” firearms which “theoretically [permit] the gun to be fired only by the authorized user.”

Yes, the term “smart gun” is made up, just like every other word humans use and yes, they “theoretically” work in the same way that every round of live ammunition will “theoretically” fire. As far as smart guns being “conceptual,” they might seem more realistic if extreme pro-gun advocates had not stepped in to prevent their sale — twice.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has also shown how low our nation’s gun debate has fallen. In a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, Cornyn posed several questions, one of which asked if the “technological capabilities” of smart guns Holder had praised in testimony before a House subcommittee meeting required or allowed for a central database on guns and gun owners.

This might seem like a reasonable worry, since much worry has been aroused over such a database, but the fact is that a central gun registry is clearly unconstitutional, and has never been pursued by the Obama administration. It is a figment of the gun lobby’s imagination, only brought up to scare those who fear government intrusion on their rights.

The rights we Americans have to own and operate firearms are some of our most important and most cherished. It was monumentally stupid of New Jersey’s legislature to require absolutely every gun sold to have personalization capabilities shortly after they became available, but the people of that state will have three years to fix the problem.

Smart guns are ready to be bought and sold now, and whatever the reasoning behind their decision to purchase one, Americans should have the option to buy a safer gun. It is a shame that in their zeal to protect our rights, a select few pro-gun activists have taken it upon themselves to reduce our freedoms.