It may be a while still before the “iPhone of guns” goes on sale anywhere in the United States, now that gun-rights activists have made it clear how much they hate the idea.
A German company that developed a “smart” handgun that could only be used its owner was planning to sell its high-tech firearm at a leading gun shop in Newhall, just north of Los Angeles. But the store’s owner quickly backed away from selling the Armatix iP1 after gun enthusiasts inundated his store with complaints once they heard about it.
In their eyes, iP1 is nothing more than an attempt by gun control proponents to limit individuals’ Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
Armatix’s executives have been left scratching their heads, after having underestimated, if not miscalculated, how gun owners would feel about a smart weapon.
The iP1 .22 caliber handgun has an embedded chip that communicates with a wristwatch that comes with it. The user of the gun must be wearing the special watch, otherwise the weapon won’t fire. The set retails for about $1,800.
The gun’s maker and gun control advocates say the iP1 is a great example of gun safety that could help end the black market for stolen firearms.
But that’s not how many gun owners see the advent of smart guns.
Critics blasted James Mitchell, owner of the Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall, in online forums and on social networking websites for what amounted to cooperating with the enemy (gun control proponents). The complaints included calls for customers to boycott the business, one of the largest gun stores and shooting ranges in California.
This despite Mitchell being an “extremely pro-gun conservative type person,” according to an interview he gave to The Washington Post.
“But I’m also logical, you know,” he said, adding the iP1 had the potential to “revolutionize the gun industry” and serve as a compromise between the gun lobby and gun control supporters.
Mitchell is now denying he ever intended to sell the smart gun at his store, and has taken measures to erase any sign that it or its manufacturer ever had a presence at his business. “It’s sad, because at the end of the day, he was trying to do something good, which is provide choice for those people that want safety,” Belinda Padilla, president of Armatix’s U.S. operation, told the Post.
Part of the reason why gun enthusiasts hated the proposed sale of the iP1 in the U.S. had to do with New Jersey. Lawmakers in the Garden State adopted a law back in 2002 that said all guns in the state would have to become personalized once a smart gun was sold anywhere in the country.
The development of smart guns can be traced back to the 1990s, when Johns Hopkins University public health expert Stephen Teret commissioned undergraduate engineering students to build a handgun that could be activated by a ring. It was preceded in the cinema in 1989’s “License to Kill,” when James Bond’s MI6 equipment officer, Q, supplied Agent 007 with a “signature gun,” a carbine that would only fire for Bond, whose palm print had first been programmed into the weapon’s computerized hand grip. (The idea was repeated in the 2012 007 movie, “Skyfall.”)
In both movies, the palm-reader technology played out in scenes in which 007’s gun fell into enemy hands and prevented the firearm from being used against him. In the late 1990s, the U.S. government researched this technology for the same purpose—to protect law enforcement officers from their own guns being used against them during a struggle.
At the time, the public seemed to approve of the development of smart guns. A 1997 survey showed that 71% of Americans and 59% of gun owners expressed support for the “personalization” of all new handguns. But during the past decade or two, the tide has been turning. A 2013 survey commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation showed that only 14% of Americans said they would be in the market for a smart gun.
Armatix shouldn’t have been surprised by the backlash against Oak Tree.
Gun-rights organizations like the National Rifle Association have long hated smart guns. Also, Smith & Wesson, a leading U.S. gun maker, was nearly boycotted out of business after its executives promised the Clinton administration in 2000 that they would research and develop smart technology for firearms.