11/21/13. New iP1 Pistol May Trigger Old Gun Law in New Jersey. Ashby Jones, wsj.com
A law that injects technology into the gun debate has lain dormant for more than 10 years. Now it may be about to wake up.
In 2002, New Jersey passed a law saying that once technology is available to prevent a gun from being used by an unauthorized person, only that type of handgun may be sold in the state.
Now, a German company, Armatix GmbH, is close to putting the first such “personalized” handgun on U.S. shelves. The model, called the iP1 Pistol, can be set up to fire only when its owner is wearing a special watch that communicates with the gun.
The New Jersey law, the only one of its kind in the U.S., mandates that within three years from the date such a gun becomes available in any state, all handguns sold in New Jersey must include technology to limit their use to specific people.
The Armatix model already is available in Europe and Asia and will “almost certainly” reach U.S. stores by the end of the year, according to Belinda Padilla, the president of Armatix’s U.S. arm.
The iP1 Pistol will cost $1,399 and the watch an additional $399, Armatix said. That is a significant premium over a Glock or Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. SWHC +5.81% handgun, which costs in the range of $400 to $500.
To use the Armatix, the gun’s owner must enter a five-digit passcode into the watch, which then communicates wirelessly with the weapon to unlock it. The user can set the pistol to be active for one to eight hours.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approved the weapon for importation into the U.S. in 2011, and earlier this year California, which has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, approved the sale of the gun.
California is the only other state so far to consider a requirement for personalized handguns; a bill has been passed by its state Senate and awaits action in its Assembly.
A federal law similar to New Jersey’s was introduced in May, by Rep. John Tierney (D., Mass.). But given the chilly reception Congress gave to a package of gun laws earlier this year, proponents aren’t optimistic.
The new technology is being monitored closely by both sides of the gun debate. Gun-rights supporters fear the New Jersey law will limit options for gun purchasers there and in other states that may follow suit. Gun-control backers hope the law spurs further technological advances in weapons across the country, which ultimately could lead to a drop in gun-related injuries and deaths.
For the law to take effect, the state’s attorney general must certify that a pistol model for sale in the U.S. includes personalization technology and meets “reliability standards generally used in the industry.”
At the end of the law’s three-year phase-in, the only handguns that could be sold in New Jersey would be personalized ones. But the law wouldn’t affect guns that residents already own.
A spokesman for acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman, a Republican, said “we understand the statutory obligations [the law] places on our office,” but declined to comment on the Armatix model.
New Jersey Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, a Republican who voted against the bill, said there is no movement to try to change or overturn the law. “Too many people in the legislature just truly don’t like guns, and don’t believe that people need them,” he said.
Supporters say that if the Armatix gun isn’t the one that sets the New Jersey law in motion, another model will. Guns often mentioned include one by an Irish company called TriggerSmart Technologies, which is activated when the user slips on a special ring or bracelet, and the “Intelligun,” by Kodiak Industries of Utah, which uses a fingerprint-based locking system.
“The technology is here,” said Nicola Bocour, a director at Ceasefire NJ, a gun-violence prevention group. “Apple is using biometrics with its smartphones. Guns are next.”
Backers of New Jersey’s law and signed by then-Gov. James McGreeveyhope it would cut down on suicides and firearms accidents, especially those involving children. “Our thought was that the bill, if passed, would save lives every year, without infringing anyone’s rights,” said Stephen Teret, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University who helped New Jersey craft the law.
But gun-rights groups say a provision that exempts law enforcement from having to use personalized guns undercuts the measure. “The law itself acknowledges that this technology is inherently unreliable,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.
Backers said they didn’t extend the law to police to prevent complications in the bill’s passage.
A gun-industry association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said that while it doesn’t oppose “the development of owner-authorized technology for firearms,” it does oppose legislative mandates. “There’s little consumer demand for these products, and they haven’t yet proven to be reliable at all,” said Larry Keane, a senior vice president at the group.