Could 'smart' gun technology really sell in America?

Many of the gun safety technologies that President Obama calls for in his executive order already exist. But American gun owners may be reluctant to buy them. 

Kevin Frayer/Associated Press
Recreational shooter Pat Eyre fires a round from her 9mm Glock pistol at the United Shooting Range in Gromley, Ontario Friday, January 3, 2003.

In addition to expanding the requirement for background checks, a significant portion of President Obama’s 10-point executive order on gun regulation calls for the research of “smart gun technology.”

By urging federal agencies to develop technologies such as biometrics, more convenient locking mechanisms, and radio frequency verification, Mr. Obama said that there would be a decrease in accidental deaths and suicides involving guns.

“Nearly two in three gun deaths are from suicides,” he said in a speech about the executive order Tuesday afternoon. “So, a lot of our work is to prevent people from hurting themselves.”

Many of these gun capabilities already exist. A company called Crimson Moon Entertainment in Dayton, Ohio, for instance, has been developing an “iGun” that tracks its location when stolen.

“We live in [a] world that has these technologies and are accepted as being highly reliable,” Stephen Tenet, director of the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at Johns Hopkins University, told Discovery news. “And they could be used in guns. The benefit would be a reduction of gun deaths.”

But the pro-gun lobby has long rallied against the accessibility of smart gun technologies, reasoning that smart technology will lead to laws that require all guns to have the capacity to identify their owners, possibly leading to further restrictions on Second Amendment rights.

And many gun owners agree. Last year, a “smart” .22 caliber handgun manufactured by a German company, Armatix, arrived in the American market. In order for it to fire, the gun’s radio frequency identification (RFID) chip must be activated by a signal worn by the owner as a wristwatch or bracelet.

But before the Armatix gun could make a dent in sales, owners of gun shops carrying the product began receiving arson and death threats. Andy Raymond, a Rockland, Md., firearms dealer, was one of those retailers..

When Mr. Raymond told customers that he would sell the Armatix, he was bombarded with complaints and threats against his life – “even the life of his dog,” The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2014.

“That’s the antithesis of everything that we pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment people should be,” he said in a YouTube video. “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 federal government’s official support for such technology, however, could spur development of new smart-gun technologies without the backing of public firearms dealers.

“The federal government is largest purchaser of firearms,” Margot Hirsch, president of the Smart Technologies Challenge Foundation, told Discovery. “There is theoretically money for research and development.”

The National Rifle Association are among anti-gun regulation groups that oppose Obama’s latest set of orders. The organization says it isn’t against smart technology – just laws that make it mandatory.

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