Armatix smart-gun tech reignites gun fight, with retailers in the middle

Gun groups are OK with 'voluntary use' of smart guns, but they'll fight mandates

For many years, technology that enabled the use of guns only by those authorized to have them was the thing of engineering labs and beta tests. Then, along came Armatix.

Germany-based Armatix earlier this year attempted to sell the first smart gun in the U.S. Its .22 caliber iP1 pistol debuted in one of California's largest gun stores. But it was quickly pulled from the shelves after some gun advocates pressured the store to stop selling the gun.

Engage Armament, a Maryland gun store, also announced it would sell the iP1, but reneged after gun-rights advocates allegedly lashed out on social media, called the store and even threatened its owner.

Ernst Mauch, an award-winning designer and former chief technical officer at German gun manufacturer Heckler & Koch (H&K), designed the iP1 pistol.

smart gun
Armatix's iP1 pistol with its iW1 enabling wrist watch (Image: Armatix).

H&K weapons are among the most widely adopted by military and police around the world. Among H&K's arsenal of high-end arms is the famed MP5 submachine gun.

Donald Sebastian, senior vice president for research and development at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), said the backlash against "smart guns" has little to do with the merits of the technology and more to do with a personal ideology.

"It has to do with strongly held views about personal liberties vs. states' rights," said Sebastian, who is also a smart gun tech designer. "Guns become a nice metaphor because its explicit in the Constitution and nothing else is. It takes it from being an intellectual argument to being something that can galvanize people."

Gun advocacy groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSA), have said they do not oppose smart gun technology, which they call "authorized user recognition" firearms.

"We do oppose any government mandate of this technology, however. The marketplace should decide," Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the NSSA wrote in an email reply to Computerworld.

The argument goes that if stores begin selling smart guns, then legislators will draft laws requiring the technology.

That argument is not without merit.

This year, for example, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass) introduced the Handgun Trigger Safety Act, which would require all handguns manufactured, sold or imported into the United States to incorporate smart gun technology within three years of the law being enacted.

More than a decade ago, New Jersey enacted legislation that requires smart gun technology once the state's attorney general determines a prototype is safe and commercially available. Hence, the protests against Engage Armament.

New Jersey State Senate Majority leader, Loretta Weinberg (D-District 37), who originally sponsored the New Jersey bill while serving in the State Assembly, has said she would consider repealing the law if, after doing so, the NRA would agree not to impede smart gun development.

As a recent Pew Research survey revealed, when it comes to gun restrictions, the American public is split: 50% favor gun control over gun rights, 48% believe the opposite.

Smart gun tech

The iP1 semi-auto pistol is authorized for sale in several states. Along with California and Maryland, the iP1 has passed regulatory requirements in Massachusetts and New Jersey, according to the company.

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