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We don't need "smart" gun control

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 7:01am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

The nation is about to mediate a very serious gun control debate, and it has nothing to do with “assault weapons.” Rather, the advent of “smart” guns could bring about the mandated obsolescence of “dumb” firearms.

Back in 2002, New Jersey passed a controversial gun-control law that would ban all guns that don’t contain “smart” technology three years after the latter has gone on sale anywhere in the U.S. Well, the first “smart” pistol, the Armatix GmbH .22 Smart System iP1, has gone on sale in California, and New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg is imploring N.J. Attorney General John Jay Hoffman to start the countdown.

“The Legislature determines that it should enact legislation designed to further enhance firearms safety by requiring that, within a specified period of time after the date on which these new personalized handguns are deemed to be available for retail sales purposes, no other type of handgun shall be sold or offered for sale by any registered or licensed firearms dealer in this State,” wrote the New Jersey legislature.

See: Photos of the Day: The Armatix iP1 smart gun

And now Sen. Edward Markey has taken it a step further — the Massachusetts Democrat has introduced legislation that would mandate all new guns be “personalized” with “smart” technology like fingerprint-readers or RFID chips.

The technology behind these “smart” guns is actually pretty nifty. In the case of the Armatix iP1, RFID chips inside the gun and a separate wristwatch communicate with each other, unlocking the firing mechanism. Without the watch, the gun won’t fire.

Murata showed off similar technology at CES 2014. Using Murata’s RFID HF tag technology, RPH Engineering developed a “smart” gun safe that unlocks with a quick swipe of the hand (and a discrete ring). I received a demo of RPH’s safe, and it opens in a flash. If you don’t mind wearing a ring — whenever you’re at home, anyway — it’s a very elegant way to prevent your gun from falling into the wrong hands.

See: Top 10 from CES 2014

And both sides of the gun-control debate want to avert that frightening scenario.

“In the 21st century, we should use advances in technology to our own advantage and save lives, and the [bill] will help ensure that only authorized users can operate handguns," Sen. Markey said in a statement. "This is the type of gun safety legislation that everyone — regardless of political party or affiliation — should be able to support.”

But what happens when the “smart” technology fails at a crucial moment? What if a homeowner isn’t wearing the watch or otherwise can’t unlock his gun with an intruder breaking in?

The NJ law includes exemptions for law enforcement, the military, and competitive shooting, but ordinary civilians would have to place their trust — and potentially their lives — in “smart” technology. I happen to find “smart” guns intriguing — from a tech perspective — but if I need a weapon for self-defense, I’d want to know it won’t fail on me (jams and mechanical flops, notwithstanding).

And I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the 1,000-pound costly elephant in the room. The Armatix iP1 retails for $1,399, while the smart watch — necessary to operate the gun — will set you back an additional $399.

I probably don’t need to tell you that $1,800 is a princely sum compared to most civilian sidearms.

Early adopters — i.e., those with a large enough disposable income — could bring the costs down, but until then, we’d necessarily exclude a large segment of the population.

No one disputes that gun violence is a critical issue, but is it worth disarming a majority of law-abiding citizens?

Let your thoughts be heard! Leave a comment below.

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