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Efforts to restart smart-gun innovation could misfire again

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 17, 2016
Smart-gun technology is now benefiting from faster processors and the miniaturization of processors

Virtually every smart gun developer, however, is familiar with a 14-year-old New Jersey law that ignited the anti-smartgun firestorm. The 2002 so-called New Jersey Smart Gun Law, authored by State Senate majority leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), requires every firearms dealer to sell only smart guns, starting three years after they are available on the market.

"It was the classic example of government overstepping its boundaries, thinking it's smarter than the people -- and it had the opposite effect of what it was supposed to do," Mossberg said. "These things have a way of backfiring." This caused a backlash against smart guns, not just in New Jersey but nationwide.

According to David Kopel, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, New Jersey’s mandate may have been intended to force a market for smart guns, but as soon as just one is sold, it would trigger a ban on all other, traditional firearms. “So who would want to sell a smart gun knowing that, by doing so, they'd be imposing a handgun ban on New Jersey?" he told NPR in a June 2014 interview.

In 2014 and 2015 Weinberg said she would repeal the Smart Gun Law if, after doing so, the National Rifle Associate (NRA) would agree not to impede smart gun development and sales. According to a spokesperson for Sen. Weinberg, the NRA never responded to her offer.

This year, Sen. Weinberg sponsored another bill (S816) passed by the House and Senate that would have repealed and replaced the Smart Gun Law with a watered-down mandate requiring gun stores to carry at least one smart gun model. On Sept. 8, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed S816, stating he would support the legislation only if it also relaxed laws on who can carry a handgun.

New Jersey is not along in its smart-gun legislative efforts. In 2014, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass) introduced the Handgun Trigger Safety Act, which also would have required all handguns manufactured, sold or imported into the United States to incorporate smart-gun technology within three years of the law being enacted.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama called for smart gun R&D funding and opened up the U.S. government as a potential market for its adoption. Obama directed the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.

He also instructed the departments to "review the availability of smart-gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety."

Smart-gun proponents who have been developing the technology or lobbied the federal government in the past for funding applauded the move, saying it's the only way to move the technology to market.


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