A new handgun disguised as a cellphone promises its wearers will "not have to engage other people about why they're carrying," Ideal Conceal creator Kirk Kjellberg says.
The Minnesotan inventor, whose two round capacity, .380 derringer is scheduled to start selling in October, was inspired to create a gun that folds up to resemble a smartphone after a child shouted "Mommy, that guy's got a gun!" in a crowded restaurant, he told KARE 11, the Twin Cities' NBC station.
"There’s just got to be something better to do than this," Mr. Kjellberg remembers thinking after a roomful of nervous diners stared at him.
Despite the expansion of open carry gun laws across the nation, many gun owners are hesitant to show their weapons, afraid of similar reactions.
"In today’s day and age, carrying a concealed pistol has become a necessity. But what if you didn’t have to conceal?" the Ideal Conceal's website says, positioning itself as a discrete but quick-access gun that will "easily blend in with today’s environment."
The gun, which Kjellberg plans to sell for $395, has tapped into debates about not just gun safety, but gun philosophy, walking the line between concealed and open carry.
For some opponents of open carry, the appeal isn't only self-defense. Americans need to get used to seeing guns, they say, and the best way to achieve that is by exercising open carry rights, even if it entails some uncomfortable conversations.
"Open carry is a politically visible sign that the right to keep and bear arms is still alive and is a wholesome part of American society," OpenCarry.org co-founder John Pierce argued in a 2014 interview. "Concealed carry allows those who oppose gun rights to treat it as something unwholesome that must be hidden from polite society."
Some gun rights' advocates, such as Concealed Nation blogger "Brandon," also worry about a "bad guy" using "a firearm that looks like something that we don’t think twice about if someone is holding in their hands," like a cellphone.
But being able to surprise an attacker, whether with concealed carry or a disguised weapon, is essential to many gun owners' idea of self-defense. Visible guns only serve to make the wearer a target, they argue, although others say the opposite: that open carry firearms help prevent crimes in the first place.
Law enforcement has often warned customers against products that could be mistaken for guns, from certain cellphone cases to toy rifles. Plenty of real guns are also designed to be disguised, but the Ideal Conceal would be one of the first marketed to a mainstream gun owner audience.
"In general, the concept of any kind of weapon that's disguised, so that it's not apparent that it's a weapon, would be cause for concern," Bill Johnson, the executive director and general counsel for the National Association of Police Organizations, told CNN.
The federal government regulates guns that do not look like a weapons under the National Firearms Act of 1934. Such weapons are categorized as "Any Other Weapon." It is unclear whether Kjellberg's cellphone gun will be regulated as such. Kjellberg has said in media interviews that he has been in contact with the Department of Homeland Security about his prototype to ensure that law enforcement is sufficiently informed of how to identify the weapon.
[Editor's note: This article has been updated to include information about a federal provision for guns that do not look like weapons.]