Smart gun opponents in the United States force a sales rethink

Electronic chips mean they cannot be fired without a matching watch, but gun rights activists in US bitterly oppose the technology

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 6:28am

The latest skirmish over the United States' first smart gun, marked last week by death threats against a Maryland gun dealer who wanted to sell the weapon, has raised doubts about its future and prompted some gun-control advocates to back away from legislative efforts to mandate the technology.

The owners of Engage Armament in Rockville, a Washington suburb, endured an outpouring of vitriol from gun rights activists who fear the technology will be used to curtail their constitutional second amendment rights by limiting what kinds of guns they can buy in the future.

The protests echoed those against the Oak Tree Gun Club, a Los Angeles area store that offered to sell the smart gun and - like Engage Armament - quickly dropped the idea after opposition mounted.

Electronic chips in the Armatix iP1 can communicate with a watch that can be bought separately. The gun cannot be fired without the watch.

Gun rights advocates are worried about a New Jersey law under which only smart handguns can be sold there within three years of being sold anywhere in the country. The law, they fear, will be replicated in other states. Similar proposals have been introduced in California and Congress.

Andy Raymond, the co-owner of Engage Armament, had decided he would offer the Armatix iP1, despite the furore it had caused in California. He was called a traitor, communist and various expletives.

"I can't have my shop burned down," Raymond said. "I have people to look out for."

Raymond said he received death threats among the hundreds of calls protesting against his decision to sell smart guns.

I can't have my shop burned down. I have people to look out for
Andy Raymond, gun shop owner

Raymond did receive messages of support, with many people commenting online that it should be a buyer's choice.

Gun-control advocates were disappointed that protest had caused another potential seller to back off. Advocates think the technology will reduce gun violence, suicides and accidental shootings.

While Armatix uses a watch to enable users to fire its smart gun, other companies are trying rings, grips, fingerprints and even voice recognition.

"It makes no sense to me why gun rights people would say certain types of guns shouldn't be purchased," said Stephen Teret, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University.

President Barack Obama says he supports smart gun technology but he has run into criticism from the National Rifle Association. The guns could lead to "a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology", said a blog by the NRA's political arm.

Additional reporting by Reuters