There was a lot of news recently about the Armatix iP1, a new handgun that will only function in the hands of the gun’s owner, and will lock out any unauthorized users. It does this by using an RFID equipped watch that sends a wireless signal to the gun, unlocking it and allowing the gun to be fired. Regardless of where people stand on the issues of gun control and firearms ownership, this new gun is a big deal in the industry.
Supporters of stricter firearms regulations point to this gun as an example of new technology that they say should be used on all firearms, in order to prevent guns from being fired by unauthorized users like children or criminals. Some are even demanding that laws be passed that require all guns sold to be equipped with some sort of electronic lockout that recognizes the user via a fingerprint, watch, or ring of some sort. After all, who doesn’t want to keep children safe and guns out of criminals’ hands?
The thing is, there are multiple problems with this “smart” tech. First off, all responsible gun owners know to store their guns where children and other unauthorized users can’t easily access them. It’s one of the most basic rules of firearm safety, one that anyone who owns a firearm should follow. But apparently that’s a rule that nobody follows if you ask gun control advocates.
On a similar note, advocates of this new technology claim that requiring a watch or ring to activate the gun will stop criminals from being able to steal guns and then use them. It’s a great theory, until you realize that people will have to store the watch too. And knowing that people have a fear of losing important and expensive things, it’s not hard to realize that many people will likely store their expensive watch in the same case as their expensive new “smart” handgun. Criminal takes the gun case, they have the watch. Or someone thinks to put the watch with their other expensive jewelry and valuable items, in which case the criminal takes the gun and jewelry box, and they have the watch. People are predictable, and no amount of new technology is likely to change that.
Another, perhaps even bigger issue, involves the use of firearms for self defense. New Jersey already has a law that will require all guns sold in the state to be “smart” by three years after the first smart gun hits the market in the United States. This means that within a few years, new gun owners will likely have to trust their personal safety to one of these electronic guns. In an area where failure of a firearm should never be an option, apparently there’s a 1-in-10 chance of exactly that. The manufacturer, Armatix, apparently claims that the firearm can recognize the RFID watch 90% of the time. This means that on average, there will be one problem during the firing of each 10 round magazine in the iP1. Not the kind of odds I want with me if someone is trying to kick in my front door at night. And that’s just with a low recoiling .22LR. I can’t imagine the electronics would handle the recoil of a proper self defense round like 9x19mm or .45ACP nearly as well.
A key detail that many will overlook with this new “smart” system is the RFID setup. It’s not that different from the “touch your ID card here to unlock the door” systems that many businesses and colleges use for security, and the “touch your credit card here to pay” systems that are becoming more and more common these days. It even shares that system’s critical flaw. Just as there are wallets that promise to block your credit card from theft, this system is relatively simple to tamper with. Some have already put the idea out there that “Gun Free Zones” could use a jammer to disable any of these firearms that were brought within range, effectively doing the same as not having the watch in the first place. Many pro-gun people have focused on this idea, arguing that gun free zones are more likely to be targeted by a mass shooter, but they have missed a huge point here. If these “smart” guns can be blocked by a jammer in a school or movie theater, it won’t be long until a criminal can go online to buy a personal “smart gun jammer” and effectively neutralize the self defense handgun of anyone they want to rob.
So, we have a gun that is reasonably likely to misfire or not work, but at least it’s affordable. Just kidding, this handgun will run you $1399. Sure, quality guns may be expensive, but I can’t imagine a handgun chambered in .22 long rifle costing more than a brand new Heckler and Koch does. One of the higher priced gun shops where I live even had a Desert Eagle in .50AE for $1470, just about the same price as this “smart” new gun. Well, it’s only $1400, right? Not quite. The gun may be $1400, but you’ll have a hard time using it without the watch. It sells separately for another $400. For those of you keeping track at home, this means that the actual cost of the iP1 setup is $1800 before mags, a holster, or any other accessories. For the same price you can get a Glock in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP and still have money left over. With other .22LR handguns like the Walther P22 and Ruger SR22 selling for $350-400, the price of the iP1 seems more and more outrageous.
One other “feature” that Armatix lists on their website is the ability of the gun to “recognize” when it is aimed at a target, and lock up if it isn’t. Sounds great, because nobody wants to put a round through the ceiling, right? But what happens if you try to use that same handgun for self defense? I’d be very impressed if the gun could differentiate between a criminal wanting your wallet and someone who happened to get flagged by the muzzle, but I doubt that the technology for that exists yet. This is just another example of new technology trying to make up for poor gun safety.
Looking into the future, it’s likely that these “smart” electronics will become more reliable and less expensive, just as cell phones, TVs, and almost all other consumer electronics have over the years. So, in the future, these guns have huge potential, right? No, at least not in my opinion. There are still too many problems with attempting to use a “smart” gun in a self defense situation. I don’t need to worry about charging my handgun and watch constantly. If I wake up to someone breaking into my house, I don’t want to worry about trying to get a watch on before I confront them. If I’m carrying concealed, I doubt a criminal will wait for me to enter a PIN number on my watch so that my handgun will fire. A trusted family member that knows where a gun is secured should be able to defend themselves with it. There are plenty of news reports online about teenagers defending their homes with a parent’s handgun, shotgun, and even AR-15. If someone breaks into my house when I’m not there, I don’t need my father worrying about putting a watch on and trying to remember my PIN number. If you are forced to defend yourself with a firearm, chances are the situation is stressful enough as it is. There’s no need to add stress by requiring a PIN number to allow you to defend yourself.
Sure, this new technology may be one way to keep criminals and unsupervised children from accessing a loaded firearm, but basic gun safety does an even better job of that.