November 23, 2016
Much Ado about Nearly Nothing in the End: The Obama Administration’s Smart Gun Saga
A completely predictable thing happened on the way to the Obama administration’s political promise from January that the federal government would put its considerable weight behind the development of authorized-user technology — more often called “Smart Guns.” In fact, we predicted it.
With the release just a few days ago of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Report, Baseline Specifications for Law Enforcement Service Pistols with Security Technology, we were reminded of what we said 11 months ago, pointing to the White House’s own words that eventual acquisition of firearms with this technology “would be consistent with operational needs.”
Indeed, operational needs as described in the NIJ baseline specifications seem to have ruled out for law enforcement several of the technologies so often cited in the media, including the fingerprint technology endorsed by President Obama with the rhetorical question “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same for our guns?”
The “working group of firearms experts in firearms technology” from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security specified in their report that “The (firearm’s) security device shall not inhibit the operator from firing in either hand, one-handed or two-handed, with our without gloves, in any orientation” (Sec. 4.18.4).
Similarly, the report instructs, “The security device shall not increase the time required by the operator to grasp, draw from a holster, and fire the pistol as a pistol of the same design that is not equipped with the security device.” This specification would seem to rule out having to enter any numeric codes or even to have to wait for an external signaling device to synch up with the firearm unlocking mechanism” (Sec. 4.18.6).
Further, we read, “The security device shall not emit audible sounds or visible signals” (Sec. 4.18.7). We have seen video of handguns equipped with lights to indicate readiness to fire. You can count these designs out for law enforcement use, apparently.
Lastly, and most troubling we read, “If the security device malfunctions, it shall default to a state to allow the pistol to fire” Sec. 4.18.3). How is that so? We have heard that one of the proponents’ concerns was a law enforcement officer’s gun being taken from him. If the device failed in this way, then the officer’s life is at risk. If it defaults to non-firing, of course, an officer would be unable to defend himself/herself or others. It sounds like a technological conundrum.
We point out all this not to say, “We told you so,” although we did. We do so because unlike the early 2016 pronouncements from the White House that were picked up uncritically and trumpeted by the mainstream media, the release of this promised report has yielded no coverage – except for the endemic media that covers our industry. Then, we fielded many media calls some resulting in coverage, some not, and several delivered with a reporter lecturing regarding a position that the firearms industry does not hold.* To date, we have received exactly ZERO media calls regarding this report. Not surprisingly, we have not seen a headline “Government firearms experts throw cold water on White House ‘smart gun’ hopes.”
We have seen one short and decidedly vague story, so far, under the headline, “Obama administration’s new specifications for smart guns only voluntary plan” appearing in the vehemently gun control favoring New York Daily News. It quotes a Justice Department spokesman as saying, “The specs give ‘clear guidance’ to manufacturers.” On that, we can agree. We read that guidance and will characterize it as indicating that no law enforcement agency is likely to be ordering any “service pistols with security technology” anytime soon.
*For the record, the firearms industry does not oppose the development or marketing of authorized user technology equipped firearms. We do oppose government mandates requiring this technology in the marketplace. The industry also wants law enforcement and military experts to make acquisition decisions, not their political bosses on any level. As firearms experts, we also reserve the right to point out problems with the theory and design of “smart gun” technology and as incorporated in the examples we have seen to date. There are several tried and true means of safeguarding firearms, such as securing them in safes and lockboxes or with the use of cable locks such as that provided by the industry with the purchase of new firearms or through NSSF’s Project ChildSafe program.