There's a revolutionary new gun safety technology that you would think might be embraced by Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates alike. But then you haven't been following the cynical means by which politicians will seize on even safety advances to push regulations that serve their political ends.
So argues author and editor of American Hunter magazine, Frank Miniter, in his new book "The Future of the Gun." The cutting-edge safety advance in question is so-called "smart-gun technology," whereby when applied, a gun will only function if handled by its owner. Miniter writes:
Smart guns theoretically offer a way for a firearm to be personalized so it will only work for an "authorized person." Engineers working on smart guns have already tried things like radio-frequency identification (RFID), fingerprint-recognition systems, and magnetic rings to keep an unauthorized person from firing a gun.
The benefits to such a technology are self-evident. Parents would no longer have to worry about children getting their hands on firearms, and guns stolen from officers and civilians would be rendered harmless.
But while smart guns in and of themselves may seem desirable, Second Amendment supporters fear the threat of a government mandate of the technology. In "The Future of the Gun," Larry Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation tells Miniter:
[sharequote align="center"]"We're not opposed to smart-gun technology. We’re opposed to government mandates."[/sharequote]
We're not opposed to smart-gun technology. We’re opposed to government mandates. Most firearms manufactures 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. This then raises the question what would happen to the three hundred million guns now owned by Americans that don’t use such a safeguard? If history is any indicator, such ideological groups would next say guns without this capability should be banned.
There is a precedent for such legislation.
In 2002, New Jersey passed the “Childproof Handgun Bill,” which forces retailers to exclusively sell smart guns within three years of their availability on the market.
The federal government is clearly focused on the technology as well. In April 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee about smart-gun technologies, stating:
It's those kinds of things [gun tracking bracelets and other technologies that limit gun use to a gun's owner] 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.
Smart-gun manufacturers have expressed their mistrust of government with respect to what it might do should smart guns become a reality, even challenging Attorney General Holder directly.
W.P. Gentry, the president of Kodiak Arms, a Utah-based gun manufacturer that has just developed the "Intelligun," a conversion kit that uses biometric scanners on a gun's grip to authorize its owner, challenged Attorney General Eric Holder during a closed-door Justice Department meeting with gun manufacturers in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013:
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.
[sharequote align="center"]"I'd destroy my smart-gun technology before I let the government use it against the American people"[/sharequote]
Famed German gunmaker Ernst Mauch, who recently developed a pistol that only fires when its user is wearing a wirelessly connected wristwatch (the Armatix pictured at the beginning of this article), told the Washington Post that sales of his guns should be left to the market and expressed disapproval of the New Jersey bill.
Interestingly, while author Frank Miniter points out in a recent National Review article that groups like The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence see in smart-gun technology "an opportunity here to ban many guns, to make those available prohibitively expensive, and perhaps even to put a bureaucrat's sticky fingers inside the firing mechanism of every gun sold," other anti-gun groups see things differently. Miniter writes:
In a long list of criticisms of smart guns, the Violence Policy Center worried that "packaged with a strong sales pitch, [smart-gun] technology could penetrate new markets for a gun industry." So this group is actually opposed to smart guns because they're worried that smart guns might make gun ownership more commonplace.
Aside from the threat of regulation there are other roadblocks facing smart-gun development. Tort lawsuits are one big issue. As Larry Keane explains in Miniter's new book:
If a gun company develops a smart gun and adds it as an option in their line of firearms, they'd open themselves up to lawsuits. Here's why: If someone steals a gun made by that manufacturer that doesn't have the smart technology installed and then that criminal uses that gun to rob or kill someone, a trial attorney could then file a lawsuit saying that person wouldn’t have been robbed or shot if the manufacturer had just installed the safeguards it had available on more expensive models…Why would gun makers want to expose themselves to that liability in our litigious system?
While gun proponents and foes will likely continue to battle on smart-gun technology, it bears noting that smart-gun development itself is as of yet far from perfected. To learn more about where the technology, be sure to read Miniter's full article, and for more on the future of the gun, be sure to check out Miniter's "The Future of the Gun."
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