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Smoking Gun

Smoking Gun

Few would care if the “smart gun” debate was only about the emergence of proven, reliable guns theoretically capable of recognizing an “authorized” person. Most gun owners would shrug and say that if it makes someone feel better to have the uncertainty of a battery put into an otherwise proven mechanical device—a tool that’s designed to save their life—that it’s their money and life.

But the American free market is not a given in this debate; rather, gun control’s clammy grip is all over this technology. Anti-freedom politicians and groups like to frame this as a debate over “gun safety,” even as they see “smart gun” technology as a means to ban guns as we know them. They even see this technology as an opportunity to insert bureaucrats’ wagging fingers into the innards of our firearms.

Still, even though the “smart gun” is being wielded as a political weapon by those opposed to the American peoples’ Second Amendment-protected freedoms, opposing “smart gun” technology overall would seem to be a stand against freedom in the marketplace. That is why the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for firearms manufacturers, have long since published statements on their websites clearly stating that they are not opposed to “smart guns,” but are opposed to laws that make such unproven technology mandatory.

The trouble is, given the so-called “mainstream” media’s ignorance of guns and their well-documented left-of-center political leanings, it has been difficult to get this very simple point articulated honestly to the American people.

This brings us to where we are right now. The gun companies you are familiar with don’t see a lucrative market for these products and are loath to begin the political two-step with the anti-gun movement on this issue. Nevertheless, “smart guns” are being developed, as a number of small companies—many of which haven’t ever made guns before—are putting research and development dollars into them. Many of these companies seem to view possible political mandates as a win-win for them, which, of course, is a gross misunderstanding of the American gun owner.

With all that going on, protecting our freedom means helping more people learn the truth about this potential, so-far-unproven technology. The good news is that, as the NRA has proven again and again, good, old-fashioned American freedom is always a winning argument—if you can get the truth out.The American free market is not a given in this debate; rather, gun control’s clammy grip is all over this technology.

To do that, here are five things you need to know.

1. The Threat Is Real Given the rhetoric from the anti-gun movement on this topic, it’s not just some conspiracy theory for you to worry that some in the government would, if they could, make it illegal for gun dealers to sell anything but “smart guns.” After all, this has already happened. In 2002, “The Childproof Handgun Bill” was signed into law in New Jersey. The law stipulates that when “smart gun” technology becomes available in the American marketplace, within three years all new handguns sold in the state must be so-called “smart guns.” Such a mandate would, by definition, be a massive gun ban, as all handguns currently available would be illegal to sell.

The media has finally started acknowledging this. Even a “60 Minutes” story reported by Lesley Stahl last November admitted it. In fact, enough people in the media are finally reporting that this law has helped to impede this technology that Stahl asked the New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader, Loretta Weinberg (she was an original sponsor of the New Jersey bill), about the law’s unintended consequences. Weinberg said she would consider repealing the law, but added she’d only do this on the condition that the NRA agreed not to impede “smart gun” development. Talk about a disingenuous and very loaded political condition!

When Stahl asked, “If the law were completely repealed, do you think that the gun lobby would then let this go forward?” Weinberg said, “No.” 

Obviously, the political opportunism from some anti-gun politicians hasn’t yet been tempered with reason.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s “smart gun” mandate has prompted gun owners to oppose the sale of “smart guns” in the United States. Gun owners opposed two attempts, for example, to sell the German Armatix iP1 “smart gun” in California and Maryland because such sales would have triggered the New Jersey gun-ban law. 

2. The “Smart Gun” Debate Isn’t About Gun Safety People who know little about firearms might now ask: Why not mandate that a new safety measure be put on every gun sold? Stahl, for example, compared smart gun mandates to mandatory seatbelt laws.

First of all, it’s not possible. There are thousands of different gun makes and models sold today in many different sizes and actions to consumers, who buy what fits their individual needs or wants. No new and likely patented technology is going to fit all of those old and new designs. 

Also, batteries go dead, temperature or moisture can harm electronics and many “smart gun” designs, such as Armatix’s iP1, require that a person wear a watch, bracelet or other device. Who wants to look for a ring or watch while in the throes of a home defense situation? 

The known facts, coupled with likely future scenarios, show that one consequence of such a mandate would be making good people less safe.

Stahl tried to counter these basic realities by speculating. In her “60 Minutes” story, Stahl said, “Smart guns could curtail the number of suicides, and cut down on the resale of stolen guns, estimated to be 230,000 every year. What good is a gun no one but the owner can fire? And they would help on-duty cops.”

Actually, the so-called “smart guns” now in development wouldn’t necessarily stop criminals from repurposing guns or even stop those who wish to commit suicide. All they would need to do is steal the ring or bracelet as well. Or they could remove the electronic impediment built into the “smart gun.” Guns are basically simple mechanical tools. Removing the “smart gun” technology and enabling the firearm likely wouldn’t even take advanced gunsmithing skills.

Also, reporters like Stahl, and the “anti”-movement in general, seem to be completely ok with the fact that none of these “smart guns” have been proven to be reliable or even safe. They haven’t even been vetted in the marketplace, as they are being prevented from entering the marketplace by threats of mandates from anti-gun politicians and groups.

America’s 1st Freedom Guns & Gear Editor Frank Winn is one of the few people to ever test the Armatix pistol, having done so last May (see his full report here). His conclusions:

  • Since the Armatix pistol is only chambered in .22 Long Rifle, its utility for self-defense, even if it were reliable, is questionable.
  • The pistol initially required a full 20 minutes to pair with the watch, even with the aid of an it pro trained in its use. Without pairing, the Armatix functions like any other handgun, capable of being fired by anyone.
  • Once paired, a “cold start” still requires a minimum of seven push-button commands and a duration of 12 seconds before the gun can be fired.
  • While the gun holds a maximum of 11 rounds (10+1), the best our experts could manage was nine consecutive rounds without a failure to fire (and that happened only once). Three or four misfires per magazine were common, despite using various brands of ammunition. 
  • Although the Armatix has a decent single-action trigger, it has the worst double-action trigger we’ve ever tested, requiring more force than any other pistol we’ve fired.
  • The pistol must be within 10 inches of the watch during “start up.” This slows and complicates the use of the pistol if one hand is injured or otherwise unavailable.
  • All this malfunction comes at a high price: At $1,798 ($1,399 for the base pistol and another $399 for the enabling watch), it costs more than three times the cost of proven, reliable pistols like Glocks and Smith & Wesson M&Ps, made in true self-defense calibers.

Obviously, the market needs to be allowed to judge such technology without the interference of government mandates and other political threats. If ever perfected, there might be some small niches in the market that would be willing to try this emerging technology.

While the (Armatix) holds a maximum of 11 rounds ... the best our experts could manage was nine consecutive rounds without a failure to fire (and that happened only once).Meanwhile, there are other real safety concerns. Might a new gun owner—someone who hasn’t taken an NRA-certified gun-safety course—decide to leave a “smart gun” sitting out because they think it can’t be fired? No experienced gun owner would give that kind of trust to even a mechanical safety or lock. It would be unfortunate if such technology led to gun owners ignoring proven gun safety rules.

3. Gun Rights Aren’t Impeding This Technology Still, many in the media are spinning the facts by reporting that gun-rights groups, not the threat of government mandates, are what is impeding the development of this technology. The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald, for example, wrote: “The National Rifle Association and other gun groups fiercely oppose smart guns.”

To be clear, the NRA opposes smart gun mandates, not the technology itself. Similarly, the NSSF’s senior vice president and general counsel, Larry Keane, told me that “most firearms manufacturers have been reluctant to invest R&D dollars in smart gun technology because gun control advocates want to make the technology mandatory. If that happens, new guns will become prohibitively expensive, which is part of what these groups want.”

Oddly enough, at least one anti-gun group actually opposes this technology. In a long list of criticisms of “smart guns,” The Violence Policy Center worried, in an internal background paper, that “[p]ackaged with a strong sales pitch, [smart gun] technology could penetrate new markets for a gun industry.” So this anti-gun group is worried that “smart guns” might make gun ownership more commonplace by making guns more acceptable to current non-gun owners? They actually list this as a reason to oppose this technology.

4. The Obama Administration Has Shown Its Anti-Gun Hand In April 2013, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said while testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations committee: “One of the things we learned when we were trying to pass those common-sense reforms last year, Vice President [Joe] Biden and I had a meeting with a group of technology people and talked about how guns can be made more safe by making them either though fingerprint identification, the gun talks to a bracelet that you might wear, how guns can be used only by the person who is lawfully in possession of the weapon. It’s those kinds of things that I think we want to try to explore so that people have the ability to enjoy their Second Amendment rights while at the same time decreasing the misuse of weapons that lead to the kinds of things we see on a daily basis, where people, kids especially, are struck down.”

Though Holder’s rambling, ungrammatical response showed he didn’t have a firm grasp of firearms technology, like other gun control advocates he saw possibilities in using emerging technology to control guns. He realized that if “smart gun” technology were mandated, it could further impede the market and give the government the chance to put its regulatory fingers in the workings of every gun sold. 

When Holder said as much during a behind-closed-doors meeting at the National Institute of Justice (the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice), W.P. Gentry, the president of Kodiak Arms and the developer of a “smart gun” called the Intelligun, told me, “I looked Holder right in the eyes and told him if he mandates my technology, I’ll burn it down. I told him I’d destroy my ‘smart gun’ technology before I let the government use it against the American people. Other gun manufacturers backed me up.”The president of Kodiak Arms and the developer of … the Intelligun, told me, “I looked Holder right in the eyes and told him if he mandates my technology, I’ll burn it down.

5. A Different Future For “Smart Guns” So that’s how the current debate over “smart guns” is being spun into a narrative that’s convenient for the anti-gun crowd. Until the spin is taken out of the debate and only the truth remains, this issue will likely continue to be caught in the teeth of anti-gun politics.

Still, there is an interesting side street to this debate that more people should be aware of. Until now the debate has mostly focused on the real threats and desires of how the anti-gun crowd would like to use such technology to infringe upon, or even take away, your right to bear arms. But what if coming gun technology were instead used solely as a way to keep the government honest?

Eric Lichtenberg, president and founder of Lichtenberg Research and Design, who worked as a contractor on the Intelligun, brought up this point when I interviewed him for my book, The Future of the Gun. He said, “Think about this: A smart gun could theoretically prevent a bad guy from turning a cop’s gun on police officers. For that to happen this technology needs to prove itself enough for police officers to feel completely comfortable with trusting their lives with it—that could obviously take a long time and a lot more research.”

The downside is that anti-gun politicians and groups would surely insist that such technology be made mandatory for private citizens’ firearms. A Pandora’s Box worth of trouble might present itself then, as mandatory electronics could theoretically be used to track or even turn off anyone’s gun. That’s pretty sci-fi, but if anti-gunners are now demanding that an unproven, untested, currently unavailable, freedom-inhibiting, expensive and unrealistic technology—“smart guns”—now be made mandatory, they’d certainly view other technological advances with the same political opportunism.

Additionally, if “smart gun” technology was made mandatory, what would be the fate of the guns already owned by law-abiding Americans? Is it really much of a stretch to think that some politicians would attempt to make these “not-smart” guns illegal and subject to confiscation?

Of course, stubbornly opposing technological advances because they can be used nefariously is a stand against freedom in the marketplace. That is why the NRA doesn’t oppose technological advancements, but opposes only mandates and other infringements on our rights.

With all this in mind, this discussion is important to gun rights because in the coming years, in one way or another, some companies or governments are likely to move forward with this technology. When it comes, we have to be prepared for it. Otherwise, gun owners might find themselves behind the curve on a savvy, though very disingenuous, media campaign run by anti-freedom folks advocating for some type of technological control of our rights.

As a final thought, whatever the future of such technology placed in guns might be, one thing is sure—until our police forces, and even President Barack Obama’s Secret Service agents, feel “smart gun” technology has been tested enough to satisfy them, why should American consumers feel any different?