Finally: The "smart" gun

The centerpiece of today’s WaPo story, the Armatix iP1, isn’t new but the fact that it’s now on sale in the U.S. — at a lone gun store in California — is.

Am I right in assuming that serious gun aficionados hate this concept?

The arrival of smart-gun technology comes amid a flurry of interest in the concept from investors who think the country — after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the brutal legislative battles that followed — is ready for new, innovative gun-control ideas. Last month, Ron Conway, a Silicon Valley titan and early investor in Google and Facebook, launched a $1 million X Prize-like contest for smart-gun technology

A variety of approaches are in development. Armatix, the German company behind the iP1, uses RFID chips, which can be found on anti-theft tags attached to expensive clothing. Trigger­Smart, an Irish company, also uses RFID chips, though with a ring instead of a watch. The company also has technology that would render guns inoperable if they approached electronic markers — for instance, near a school.

The New Jersey Institute of Technology is using sensors to recognize users’ grips and grasping behaviors. Kodiak Arms, a Utah company, is taking ­pre-orders for its Intelligun, which is unlocked with fingerprints. Other companies are using voice recognition. Yardarm, a California start-up, uses a smartphone app to notify gun owners of a weapon’s movement. Users can even remotely disable their weapons…

Teret and other smart-gun proponents point to a 1997 survey showing that 71 percent of Americans — and 59 percent of gun owners — favored personalization of all new handguns. Gun rights advocates, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation, cite a survey the group commissioned last year showing that only 14 percent of Americans would consider buying a smart gun.

Here’s the webpage for the iP1, which not only won’t fire if it’s not paired with the accompanying smartwatch but can be programmed not to fire if you’re aiming away from a designated target. (The clip below, which is a few years old, shows what happens when you try to fire with the watch disabled and then enabled.) If you’re a parent who wants something for home protection and also wants to be 200 percent sure your kid can’t stumble upon your gun and have an accident — and if you also don’t mind sleeping with a watch on every night — then maybe this is for you. Or maybe not: The most obvious problem is that, if you ever did face a threat requiring you to pull, there’s a chance the signal from the watch would fail and you’d be dunzo. To paraphrase an old saying, when seconds count, a new smartwatch battery is just minutes away.

But that’s a practical problem. There are two theoretical problems for gun-rights advocates, I take it. One: The more mainstream smart guns become, the easier it’ll be for gun-grabbers to call for banning everything but smart guns as a “compromise” position. They’ve always had trouble selling the assault-weapons ban because the definition of “assault weapon” is hazy and assault weapons are used in only a small fraction of gun crimes. A ban on “dumb guns,” including handguns, would be clearer and more ambitious. If you want to protect your right to a “dumb gun,” maybe the smart guns need to be marginalized. Two: If the point of the Second Amendment is self-defense, including the right to defend yourself against a violently oppressive government, why would you want to embed a technology in your weapon that could probably be disabled remotely by the government? At the very least, seems like it’d be easy for the feds to create a gun registry if we stuck a tiny electronic beacon in every weapon. (That’d make it easier to solve gun crimes too, but then policing does tend to be easier in a police state.) Which is to say, all the privacy concerns about the “Internet of things” would apply to smart guns too, except in this case they might have life-and-death consequences.

Am I missing something? Gun-rights supporters might be more open to smart guns as a compromise if gun-control fans had the momentum on policy, but they don’t. Just the opposite.