Safety-equipped 'smart guns' being run out of town by U.S. gun lobby

After 20 years, the gun industry seems to have finally developed a safety-equipped "smart gun" that will only fire for the proper owner. Only problem, U.S. gun shops are being threatened by "freedom loving" gun groups when they try to sell them.

Only want dumb guns in our country, please

Andy Raymond, owner of Engage Armament in Maryland, was among the first U.S. gun shop to try to sell the German-made Armatix pistol. But threats to his life changed his mind. (Andy Raymond / Facebook)

As every true lover of freedom and the Second Amendment knows, Barack Obama spends most of his time scheming to take away America's guns.

Pay no attention to the relaxed gun laws since Obama's first election, or the record increase in gun sales on his watch. Almost as many guns were produced during Obama's first four years than all eight years of George W. Bush's administration.

Obviously, Obama's crafty operatives know that allowing all that accumulation of firepower will just give them more guns to impound when they make their move.

As everyone knows, right, Washington is working on a diabolical project: a "smart gun" that the government will be able to deactivate remotely, probably at the very moment its owner is stoutly defending himself or his household against federal agents.

OK, that's about as far down the road to conspiracy-town as I care to travel.

But I'm not making all this up. One needs surf no further than the esteemed Forbes website to find this: "Smart guns may be susceptible to government tracking or jamming. How hard would it be for the government to require manufacturers to surreptitiously include in computer-enhanced weapons some circuitry that would allow law enforcement to track — or even to disable — the weapons?"

Gun websites, which tend to take a more dire view than Forbes, are, well, up in arms.

According to Shotgun News: "There are people who won't stop until we are disarmed. [Smart guns] are a danger to our rights, no more, no less."

To me, a non-gun owner who doesn't believe the feds are coming in stealth helicopters, the smart gun seems like what it is: a real gun that fires real bullets, and can really kill you.

The difference is that it must be electronically enabled in order to function, a safety measure that has come to be hated and feared by the far right of the gun lobby.

Some smart guns contain sensors that scan the owner's biometric information, or recognize a grip. Some recognize fingerprints.

Others, like the German-made Armatix iP1, won't work unless the shooter is wearing a special wristwatch transmitter.

A man holds a prototype of a smart gun by Armatix during the International Guns Exhibition in Nuremberg in 2009. The smart gun is the first of its kind with a fingerprint recognition security system controlled by the security watch. (Reuters)

In other words, smart gun technology might prevent the hundreds of children who stumble upon guns in their homes every year from shooting themselves or someone else, as they do now.

Or perhaps some teen intent on stealing his mother's guns to slaughter schoolchildren might find that they won't operate in anyone else's hands.

And if law enforcement agents could indeed disable smart guns remotely, well, good for them. Presumably they'd have a good reason, but of course that involves trusting law enforcement, which I'm inclined to do once the  shooting starts.

Free to own

I suppose if I were ever to keep a gun in my home, I'd choose a smart gun.

In fact, I'm exactly the sort of customer Andy Raymond had in mind when he decided two years ago to become the first gun shop in America to import the Armatix pistol.

Raymond operates Engage Armament, not far from where I live in Maryland's notoriously liberal Montgomery County.

Unlike Virginia, just across the Potomac River, where you can load up on Glocks and Bushmasters and parade around in public with them, no permit required, Maryland's approach is more, um, Canadian.

Maryland requires new handgun buyers to take a weapons course and be fingerprinted, and imposes a waiting period. As Raymond says, "the state has just about put gun shops out of business" here.

So any new gun, to Raymond, is a good gun. Anything that can persuade cautious people to learn how to shoot is a good, American thing.

"I am pro-gun," he told me at his shop this week, slapping together and dismantling weapons on the counter as he spoke. "I believe in the freedom to own a gun. Any gun. To me, you don't have freedom unless you have freedom of choice. It's like speech, or religion."

'Irony not lost on me'

The more militant wing of the gun-rights movement, though, has a different view. And when word got out that Raymond was going to offer the Armatix for sale, Engage Armament's phone began to ring.

There were threats. Raymond, a massive, heavily muscled man, took some of the more menacing ones as death threats.

He quickly capitulated, and repudiated his plan to sell the Armatix.

He began sleeping in his store, frightened by an anonymous threat to burn it down.

In an attempt to appease his antagonists, he posted a video on his Facebook page justifying his decision, then apologizing, then suggesting in a fit of temper that the death threats should be leveled at anti-gun politicians, not him. The video has since been taken down.

Another merchant, the Oak Tree Gun Club in California, hastily renounced the Armatix a few weeks ago as well after a similarly ferocious reaction.

I asked Raymond how weird is it that gun rights activists across this country are mobilizing against the sale of a gun, probably for the first time in history.

"That irony is not lost on me," he replied.

Raymond says the Armatix has technical issues: "It's not there yet. You can hot-wire it easy."

But he also says the arrival of a truly efficient smart gun is just a matter of time; there is demand, and the market will respond.

Even liberal politicians like the concept (then president Bill Clinton was among the first to advocate it over a decade ago), and so do some gun control advocates.

In this early, 2004 version of a smart gun, then New Jersey governor James McGreevey, right, shows off the grip recognition technology, held by the gun's inventor Michael Recce of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. (Associated Press)

New Jersey has already passed a law that would essentially require all new guns to be smart-equipped within three years of the first smart gun sale.

The National Rifle Association, which is deeply suspicious of smart guns, opposes any such law, and its more radical allies are determined to keep the weapons out of America, period.

As the Shotgun News website put it: "Until the last anti-gunner gives up and goes to work on transgender rights … any retailers foolish enough to stock one should plan for bankruptcy."

Note the clever comparison of gun control to emasculation.

Note, too, how we might be talking about something much worse than bankruptcy. Just ask the rather chastened Andy Raymond.

It seems the gun lobby's howling fanatics aren't as interested in freedom as they pretend. Or at least other people's freedom to choose a safer gun. 

About the Author

Neil Macdonald is a former foreign correspondent and columnist for CBC News who has also worked in newspapers. He speaks English and French fluently, as well as some Arabic.


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