For those who do not know the label ‘smart guns’ applies to guns “designed to reduce the misuse of firearms through the use of RFID chips or other proximity devices, fingerprint recognition, magnetic rings, or a microchip implant.” Or at least that is what they are according to Wikipedia. The general idea is a gun that has some feature that prevents it from being fired by anyone but its legal owner.
The first of these to hit the US market is Armatix iP1, made by the German company Armatix. The ip1 features a watch with an RFID transmitter, that the weapons owners wears. The gun will not fire without for someone without this watch, which also gives information on the battery charge levels for the watch and the guns computer system as well as a count of how many shots have been fired within a specified time frame. It also has the optional feature of a Target Response System that prevents the gun from firing at anything other than a specified target.
This to me sounds like a gun that would appeal to people who would not have otherwise wanted a gun in their homes. I know quite a few people whose reservations about owning fire arms center around fears that the weapon would be stolen and used against them or that their kid would find a way to get hold of it or what have you. This is a gun that has features that address those concerns, and thereby open the possibility of gun ownership to people who otherwise would not have considered it.
That said it does have some issues. First and foremost their is concern that the introduction of weapons with these kind of features would be the first step in regulators requiring all new guns to have them. This fear is not unjustified, since the state of New Jersey signed a law into effect in 2002 which has provisions that would do just this with in three years of smart guns appearing on the market. Earlier this month the author of this bill, Lorretta Weinberg has offered to repeal the legislation if the National Rifle Association will end its opposition to sales of this type of weapon. So far their seems to be little action in either direction, despite it being generally acknowledged that the state should repeal this bill regardless of what the NRA stance is. It is my opinion that such technology should be available to those who wish to buy it, and that politicizing it was a disastrous mistake. Just to be clear the New Jersey bill is a terrible bill that needs to to be done away with.
There are of course other concerns as well. Smart guns could rely on computer processors and radio technology that could theoretically fail, albeit in an incredibly small percentage of cases. Additionally there is concern that these weapons could be jammed by clever criminals or nefarious government operatives or that the technology will make these weapons difficult to clean or that their batteries may run out if not routinely charged. While these strike me as legitimate concerns, they are concerns that should be dealt with by the person contemplating buying the weapon and are not grounds for trying to obstruct their availability. Furthermore these are the type of issues that should be points of competition between manufacturers, and are all things that will be improved on as technology improves and consumers make their demands known.
Unfortunately obstruction of the voluntary sales and purchasing of these weapons is something that we have already seen, as the owner of Engage Armaments of Rockville Maryland has recieved death threats over his store’s carrying of the Armatix iP1. Store has since discontinued selling the weapon. I do not think threats of violence against people trying to engage in voluntary exchanges is ever the way to deal with issues, and I would think the last thing gun rights activist would ever want to do is to try to stifle the advance of technology or limit the selection of personal firearms available to the consumer.
Honestly, I see this technology as a welcome development. Smart guns may not be the weapons of choice for survivalist seeking to defend themselves from some malicious global conspiracy or what have you, but they may be the weapons of choice for middle class suburbanites who otherwise would choose not to arm themselves. Whether it is your weapon of choice or not I think it is a choice that should be available to consumers who want it.