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article imageNew 'smart gun' hits shelves and debate in America

By Brett Scruton     Feb 21, 2014 in Technology
A new "smart gun" has hit shelves in the US. Now questions arise as to whether this new safe technology will curb rampant gun violence or even take off on the market.
Previously thought to be an element of science fiction, German company Armatix GmbH has broken into US markets with a “smart gun” that only operates in the presence of a corresponding smart watch. The new space-age weapon, a .22 pistol called the iP1, seems to be a dream for gun control advocates, but the workability of these weapons is now in serious debate. The new pistol can be purchased for the steep price of $1,399, and the necessary watch for $399.
Forms of safer firearms have been an element of discussion in the waves of national attention after US shooting tragedies such as Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora, CO. The idea of personalized weapons has already saturated popular culture in films like Skyfall, where James Bond’s famous Walther PPK could only fire after reading his palm signature. In a world where the newest iPhone can be unlocked by a recognized fingerprint, this weapon of the future may not be far off.
While this technology isn’t quite here yet for guns, the iP1 is the closest that gun manufacturers have been to producing personalized safe-technology weapons. Just short of recognizing a palm print, the iP1 is rendered operational when an internal microchip is in close proximity to another microchip that creates a signal. The user of the iP1 knows the pistol is operational when a light just above the grip turns green. If the shooter is not wearing the watch or the pistol is not within proximity to the shooter, the light flashes red and cannot be fired under any circumstances.
The developer, Armatix GmbH, is an offshoot of the company Simons-Voss, which specializes in software and home security systems similar to microchip communication technology in the iP1s. Former chief technical officer for German firearms company Heckler & Koch, Ernst Mauch, joined Armatix GmbH in 2006, where Mauch and others began to develop the iP1.
The Washington Post has reported that the iP1’s “introduction is seen as a landmark in efforts to reduce gun violence, suicides and accidental shootings.” Despite the support of gun –control advocates, questions remain on whether these reductions will actually come about, and whether smart guns will take off as a business.
The Violence Policy Center, which researches ways of reducing gun violence, is among the skeptics. As the Policy Center points out, there are estimated 300 million guns in circulation, and 350,000 incidents of firearm theft a year. There is little to suggest that this new technology would curb these statistics substantially.
Factors to consider are whether American gun owners will take steps to retrofit their existing weapons with the microchip technology, whether other companies will divert many of their resources to developing their own smart-guns, how long the battery and electronic components can last, and whether Americans will pay the price.
For the combined price of $1,798, the total cost of the iP1 and watch is over half the price of a .40 Glock, let alone other .22 pistols. The .22 round has also become increasingly scarce and expensive across the US as gun owners stocked up in fear of draconian gun-control measures. The majority of the cost for the smart gun is the technology and not the utility of a common firearm. The bet on whether smart guns take off is whether consumers are more interested in the technology to make the guns safe or owning a gun itself.
The sales of smart guns have already had impacts at a state level. In 2002, New Jersey passed a law that required the sale of only smart guns to be sold within state lines three years after the first smart guns were sold in the US. The iP1 sales put New Jersey’s deadline in 2017 if the law isn’t changed. Also, the iP1 has been introduced in California, a state where major gun manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Ruger have pulled sales due to a new law requiring that certain handguns have technology to imprint stamps on bullets for tracing purposes.
Whether or not smart guns take off or not, the introduction is in the midst of one of the highest firearms production sprees in the US. Regardless of how safe the smart guns are or if they take off with consumers, the sale of the iP1 is another gun on the market.
More about smartgun, Gunviolence, California
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