Death threats stop gun store from selling 'smart' gun. Why?

The White House has urged gun companies to invent safety technology that could limit a gun’s use to its owner. But two gun shops decided not to sell such guns after receiving death threats.

Michaela Rehle/REUTERS
A man holds a prototype of a smart gun by Armatix. Andy Raymond, co-owner of Engage Armament in Rockville, Maryland, has dropped his plan to be the first in the United States to sell the Armatix iP1 .22-caliber handgun after a backlash that included death threats.

Andy Raymond, a Rockland, Md., firearms dealer, found out how much some people who love guns and the Second Amendment really hate some guns, causing the owner of Engage Armament this week to reverse his plan to sell the Armatix iP1, the nation’s first “smart” gun.

The German-made Armatix iP1 won’t fire unless it’s in proximity of a special watch, thus making it useless if stolen. Gun control advocates, including Attorney General Eric Holder, have cited such technology as potential life savers.

But the NRA and many gun owners say it’s a government Trojan horse intended to open the door for laws that will mandate “smart” technology in new guns in order to identify gun owners – a notion that’s widely seen by gun owners as a threat to Second Amendment rights.

When Mr. Raymond said he’d sell the Armatix, he was deluged with complaints and threats against his life, even the life of his dog. Before relenting on Thursday, Raymond lashed out against his critics in a YouTube video.

“That’s the antithesis of everything that we pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment people should be,” he said. “You are not supposed to say a gun should be prohibited. Then you are being no different than the anti-gun people who say an AR-15 should be prohibited.”

The optics of politically motivated gun owners threatening the lives of other citizens over their business activity will likely prove off-putting to a lot of Americans, especially given wide-ranging concerns about the armed standoff between government agents and rancher Cliven Bundy in Nevada over grazing rights and fees. Armed militiamen are still patrolling Bunkerville, Nev., after Sen.  Majority Leader Harry Reid called them “domestic terrorists.”

But fears that smart guns will lead to more gun ownership restrictions aren’t completely unfounded, either.

In Congressional testimony last year, Mr. Holder defended a budget request for gun safety grants by saying that “bracelets” can be used to make sure guns are “used only by the person who is lawfully in possession of the weapon.”

After noting that smart gun technology was discussed in a White House meeting after the Sandy Hook massacre, Holder noted that, “It’s those kinds of things that I think we want to try to explore so that we can make sure that people have the ability to enjoy their Second Amendment rights.”

Politifact, the fact-checking service, noted that Holder is not pursuing any policy to help the government track gun owners. But in her speech to the NRA last weekend, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin took note of Holder’s “bracelet” testimony and his suggestion that technology could “identify” gun owners, and said, “Hey … you don’t want to go there, buddy.”

But even more specifically, New Jersey lawmakers have passed legislation that all handguns in the state be “personalized” three years after smart guns become available. Some US lawmakers are mulling similar legislation, according to the Washington Post.

After the events in Maryland, New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the sponsor of the gun bill, said she’d work to defang that law if the NRA stops fighting “smart gun” technology. According to Fox News, the NRA’s legislative director, Chris Cox, said the organization will only be happy with a “full repeal.”

Smart guns have been in development for a decade, but the iP1 is the first one to sniff the US market. After the Sandy Hook massacre, a conglomerate of California investors launched a $1 million contest to push smart-gun technology.

Mostly European gunsmiths are exploring technologies like RFID chips, rings, fingerprint sensors and even voice recognition to incorporate into new generation firearms.

Whether they’ll ever make it onto US gun store shelves is now the open question. Last year, Oak Tree, a California gun shop, stopped selling the Armatix after similar protests. The shop later insisted that it had never offered the iP1 for sale.

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