Obama to Make 'Smart Guns' Push
President Barack Obama is opening a new front in the gun control debate, readying a big push for so-called smart gun technology — an initiative that the gun lobby and law enforcement rank and file is already mobilizing against.
As early as Friday, Obama is set to formally release findings from the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security Departments on ways to spur the development of guns that can be fired only by their owner, according to industry and gun control sources. Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett is slated to preview the announcement for stakeholders on Thursday afternoon.
It’s an intensification of an effort kicked off in January, when Obama ordered federal agencies to explore such technology and report back, as part of his series of executive actions for “common sense” gun reforms.
While the “smart gun” element of the actions drew little attention earlier this year, critics are gearing up to fight back against the possibility that such guns could be required for government firearms purchases.
A source familiar with the plans said that type of mandate isn’t on tap right now, but critics are still worried the administration is laying the groundwork for such a move. Among the biggest skeptics are cops worried about testing an unproven technology on the streets.
“Police officers in general, federal officers in particular, shouldn’t be asked to be the guinea pigs in evaluating a firearm that nobody’s even seen yet,” said James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “We have some very, very serious questions.”
Pasco said he’s already been vocal about his concerns in private conversations with administration officials and he plans to keep up the drumbeat even as he waits for an official announcement. The gun lobby, meanwhile, is prepared to capitalize on genuine uncertainty among law enforcement about the not-ready-for-prime-time technology in order to limit enthusiasm for major new government investments.
The concept of smart guns is hardly new: researchers have been trying to develop electronic systems to make a gun fire only by an authorized user for almost three decades, with on-again, off-again help from the federal government.
It wouldn’t prevent most mass shootings, gun crimes or suicides — currently the biggest driver of gun deaths. However, they could cut down on the roughly 500 deaths each year from accidental shootings, especially by kids. Advocates also point to findings that most youth suicides are committed with a parents’ weapon, and instances where officers’ own guns are stolen in a scuffle and used to shoot them cause about 1 in 10 police deaths.
But a reliable system has yet to hit the mainstream market. While technology is only getting better and more accessible — think fingerprint ID for unlocking an iPhone — government efforts to promote smart gun technology have been at best halting and at worst counterproductive when they prompt political backlash.
Advocates accuse the gun lobby of creating a chilling effect by casting any government embrace of smart guns as a mandate and driving boycott threats against stores that have tried to sell the prototypes.
Entrepreneurs and researchers who’ve worked on smart guns say that government will have to take the lead on creating a viable market and showing the guns work when police and military use them — “not the bully pulpit, but the buying power of these public agencies,” as Don Sebastian of the New Jersey Institute for Technology put it in an interview.
Sebastian’s 15-year-old effort to develop a gun that recognizes an individual’s unique grip has been essentially “mothballed” since federal funding dried up in 2010, and his collaborations with the Army’s small arms research division, Picatinny Arsenal, petered out about a year ago.
“As long as there’s a belief that there’s no market or ability to get into the market, nobody’s going to invest in this,” Sebastian said.
That’s why he’s hopeful incentives from the Obama administration will restart his and others’ efforts. As part of his January executive actions, Obama directed agencies to “consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.”
While it doesn’t appear Obama is planning to issue an executive order mandating smart gun purchases for the federal government, the gun industry’s fears of such mandates from governments do have firm roots in reality.
In 2002, a New Jersey law required that all gun shops sell only personalized guns within three years of a proven product hitting the market. To avoid triggering New Jersey’s countdown, gun rights activists pressured retailers not to sell any version, even harassing stores in California and Maryland that tried to sell one.
Recognizing the unintended consequence, New Jersey Democrats tried to loosen up the rule recently, requiring New Jersey retailers to simply include a smart gun in their stock once a version is on the market, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie, in the thick of his presidential bid, killed it with a pocket veto in January.
“The gun lobby has put the word out that anyone who works in this space is basically persona non grata,” said Tim Daly, managing director for guns and crime policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, are not against funding research for smart guns or putting them on shelves. But the NRA does oppose any law that would prohibit people from buying a gun that doesn’t have personalized technology. And its website casts the motives for a mandate in ominous terms: “as a way to prohibit the manufacture of traditional handguns, raise the price of handguns that would be allowed to be sold and, presumably, to imbed into handguns a device that would allow guns to be disabled remotely.”
Safety is the only motive that advocates of smart guns cite, and they insist they just want to fund research so that, one day, consumers can have a choice.
Protecting officers from being shot with their own stolen gun was a top rationale when the conversation about smart guns first started nearly 30 years ago.
But at this point, the Obama administration already has frayed ties with rank-and-file cops, many of whom didn’t think the president took their side in his reactions to police violence and protests like those in Ferguson, Missouri. Pasco compared the push for smart guns to the decision to limit local departments’ access to surplus military equipment.
“They sit down among themselves and decide what is best for law enforcement, but from a political standpoint, and then tell officers they’re doing it for their benefit,” Pasco said.
Of the 330,000 officers in his union, Pasco said, “I have never heard a single member say what we need are guns that only we can fire,” noting that there might be moments in close combat when an officer would need to use a partner’s weapon or even the suspect’s.
“There’s a legitimate question right now whether smart gun technology will work for policemen” said Stephen P. Teret, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studied how airbag rules impact safety before he turned his focus to gun violence. “Some of the concerns might be overblown.”
Teret is convinced that across society, smart guns’ lifesaving potential likely outweighs the risks.
“We need to put smart guns in the hands of some policemen to essentially run the experiment” he said, stressing that only officers who volunteer should be signed up.
Like the debate on guns broadly, law enforcement leadership, which has been a key ally for gun control advocates, tends to be more open than their underlings to giving smart guns a try.
The technology is “intriguing,” said Louis Dekmar, police chief in LaGrange, Georgia, and vice president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “But the jury’s still out.”
He added, “The more complicated you make the weapon, the more likely you are to have a failure.” Dekmar said he’d “certainly be open” to having his officers test the guns under limited circumstances and hailed their potential to protect officers whose guns are taken.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told “60 Minutes” last year that smart guns are a “no-brainer,” especially for his plainclothes cops who don’t wear special holsters.
The administration also appears to be moving forward on other elements of Obama’s gun actions beyond the high-profile effort to subject more gun sales to background checks, which took effect immediately.
Obama also ordered the Social Security Administration to start writing regulations that could bar some beneficiaries from buying a gun if they’ve been deemed mentally incapacitated. It could face a legal challenge, depending on the final wording, and advocates who work closely with the White House anticipate those details could come out on Friday, too.
Obama also called for an upgrade to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and that’s showing signs of progress. The FBI plans to debut the “New NICS,” late this summer, according to a notice sent to retailers through the National Shooting Sports Federation on Wednesday.
By Sarah Wheaton, politico.com
State House Passes Bill Restricting People with Restraining Orders from Keeping Guns
By Sean Pragano, fox61.com
HARTFORD -- A law aimed at taking guns away from domestic violence abusers is one step closer to becoming reality.
The bill, which passed the House of Representatives late Wednesday night, would prevent people served with temporary restraining orders from keeping their guns.
Alleged abusers would now have 24 hours to sell their weapons to a licensed dealer or turn them over to police.
The new legislation would require a hearing on a full restraining order working seven days. If a permanent order is not granted, gun owners would get their firearms back.
Under the current law, a domestic violence victim must apply for a temporary restraining order and then wait two weeks for a judge to grant a permanent order before an abusers guns are confiscated.
Gun advocates argue it's not fair because a temporary restraining order can be obtained without testimony. They also say there is an existing law which allows officers to seize guns from people who pose a risk to themselves or others.
More than a dozen states have strengthened laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic violence abusers over the last two years.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy said, “We know that the period of time immediately following a temporary restraining order is critical. Clearly, access to a firearm in that situation can only increase the chances that something tragic might happen. This is about standing up and acting."
Rep. William Tong, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, cited several reasons for the legislation:
Nationally, domestic assaults involving firearms are 12 times more likely to result in fatal violence than those involving other weapons or bodily harm.
Women in abusive relationships are 5 times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a firearm.
Connecticut averaged 14 intimate partner homicides per year from 2000 to 2012 and firearms were used in 39 percent of those 188 homicides, making them the most commonly used weapon to commit intimate partner homicide in Connecticut.
The bill now heads to the Senate.