Smart gun's sale by California store draws fury of gun rights advocates

Weapon seen as reducing accidents, suicides and gun violence thanks to chip technology attracts such vitriol that California shop denies selling it

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 6:22am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 6:22am

The California gun store that put the United States' first smart gun on sale is facing a backlash from customers and gun rights advocates who fear the new technology will encroach on their rights to keep and bear arms.

Online attacks against the Oak Tree Gun Club have prompted the store to back away from any association with the Armatix iP1 smart gun. The protests threaten the nascent smart-gun industry, which received a jolt of support recently when Silicon Valley investors offered US$1 million for promising new technology.

The vitriol began almost immediately after The Washington Post reported last month that the Armatix iP1 was on sale at the shop. Electronic chips inside the gun communicate with a watch that can be bought with the gun, making it impossible to fire without the watch. Gun control advocates, who believe smart guns can reduce gun violence, suicides and accidental shootings, marked it a milestone.

"These people are anti-gunners," someone said of Oak Tree on the store's Facebook page. "I will never step foot in this dump."

On social network Yelp, a user wrote, "If you care about the ability to exercise your [Second Amendment] rights, I would suggest that you do not continue to frequent this place."

The protests are fuelled by worry that being able to purchase the iP1 will trigger a New Jersey law mandating that all handguns in the state be personalised within three years of a smart gun going on sale anywhere in the US. Similar mandates have been introduced in California and in both chambers of Congress.

Oak Tree, located outside Los Angeles, owed New Jersey an apology, a Facebook user wrote.

The opposition has apparently shaken Oak Tree, one of the largest gun stores and shooting ranges in California.

Gun rights advocates and Armatix executives have been mystified by the store's response, which was to deny having ever offered the gun and apologising online for any confusion.

The denials came despite Oak Tree owner James Mitchell's extensive comments about why the gun was put on sale there. Armatix executives also gave The Washington Post photos of the gun for sale in a gun cabinet at the facility and of customers shooting the iP1 at an event in a specially designed firing range with large Armatix signs.

The protests echo what gun maker Smith & Wesson endured after it signed a landmark gun control agreement with the Clinton administration in 2000 that called for the company to research and introduce smart guns. Boycotts of the company's products nearly put it out of business.

Oak Tree executives did not respond to requests for comments about the backlash and why they were now denying carrying the gun.

Belinda Padilla, president of Armatix's US operation, described a "mind-blowing" set of events following The Washington Post's original story. At first, she said, Oak Tree officials were "ecstatic" with the coverage, telling her they needed more guns in the store because a news crew was coming to film a report.

But that tone quickly changed. Padilla said Mitchell told her he had received phone calls from gun rights groups questioning the gun's sale and that he had cancelled the television interview.

Mitchell "was clearly distraught", Padilla said. "I told him, 'It's going to be okay. You're doing the right thing.' Then it just got worse.

"It's sad, because at the end of the day, Mitchell was trying to do something good, which is provide choice for those people that want safety,"