Gun Control Never Sleeps

While President Obama is taking a valedictory tour of Europe, his minions in the Justice Department are still hard at work trying to establish his gun control legacy. The National Institute of Justice released their final baseline specifications that outline the minimums required for a “smart gun” (sic) if it is to be used by law enforcement. Their efforts on this were in response to a Presidential Memorandum that President Obama issued to the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice in January 2016 ordering them to promote “smart gun” technology.

The new release from DOJ is below:

November 16, 2016
For more than two decades, the federal government and the private sector have grappled with a basic question of firearm engineering:  Can modern technology make guns safer—or “smarter”—without sacrificing the reliability, durability and accuracy that owners expect from their firearms?
In January 2016, as part of the administration’s ongoing efforts to combat gun violence, President Obama directed the Departments of Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense (DOD) to answer that question.  Three months later, in April 2016, the three agencies submitted a report to the president outlining a multi-pronged strategy to expand and encourage the development of advanced gun safety technology.  Today, the Administration is taking a significant step forward to implement that strategy: by releasing a final version of “baseline specifications” that outlines, for the first time, a detailed description of the minimum technical requirements that law enforcement agencies expect from smart gun technology.  
The baseline specifications were drafted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) – DOJ’s research, development and evaluation agency – in partnership with a team of firearms experts at DOJ and DHS.  Throughout the development process, NIJ sought input from a wide range of stakeholders, including federal, state and local law enforcement, firearms manufacturers and technology experts.  Among other steps, in July 2016, NIJ published a draft version of the specifications in the Federal Register and invited feedback during a 60-day public comment period.  In addition, in August 2016, NIJ hosted a two-day conference in Washington, D.C., with representatives from law enforcement agencies to discuss smart gun technology and review the draft document.
As the April 2016 report to the president made clear, this project was designed to spur the growth of enhanced gun safety technology—and not to mandate that any particular individual or law enforcement agency adopt the technology once developed.  These voluntary specifications serve several purposes:  they provide clear guidance to potential manufacturers about what government purchasers require in their firearms; they serve as a standard against which existing technology can be measured, making it possible to identify what research and development gaps remains; and they allow federal, state and local governments to demonstrate that demand for smart guns may exist—if certain operational requirements are met.  By engaging law enforcement experts in this process, NIJ has produced a final document that both reflects the exacting demands of law enforcement officers and advances the goal of expediting the real-world deployment of smart gun technology.

The final 25 page report can be found here.

Take this as a reminder that we need to remain hypervigilant in the waning days of the Obama Administration. The only reason that this popped up on my radar is that I got an email from the Brady Campaign applauding this move (and asking for money).

Come the afternoon of January 20, 2017, this is one of the many Executive Orders and Memorandum that needs to be discarded. Let the market forces decide whether or not to proceed with so-called smart gun technology and get government out of it. Moreover, we need to work in the states to repeal those laws that mandate the sale of such firearms.

The Question Not Asked On 60 Minutes

Lesley Stahl had a long piece on so-called smart guns last night on CBS’ 60 Minutes. She talked to a lot of people including New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg. Here is the part of the transcript where Stahl speaks with Weinberg and intersperses it with comments from a Maryland FFL.

Loretta Weinberg, the New Jersey state senator who authored the law, didn’t foresee its consequences.

Loretta Weinberg: We passed that bill to help spur this technology.

Lesley Stahl: It appears it totally backfired because it spurred this passionate objection to the gun.

Loretta Weinberg: Because of the intervention of the NRA and the Second Amendment folks.

Lesley Stahl: That, they say, the reason they intervened is because of the mandate.

Loretta Weinberg: Right. It isn’t the law that’s stopped the development. It is the people who threatened folks who actually wanted to sell such a gun.

Andy Raymond came to realize that even if he had sold the Armatix gun in Maryland, it might’ve triggered the mandate, banning the sale of regular handguns in New Jersey.

[Andy Raymond: The people of New Jersey: my apologies. You got nothing to worry about from me.]

Andy Raymond: I did apologize. I’m… I’m sorry. Sorry to this day.

Lesley Stahl: Did you actually sell any of the Armatix guns?

Andy Raymond: No.

After his case came to her attention, the New Jersey senator offered to rescind the mandate if the gun lobby publicly removed its opposition to smart guns. She’s yet to hear back.

Loretta Weinberg: They seem to oppose almost everything. Anytime we suggest anything we’ve gotten very little cooperation back.

Lesley Stahl: If the law were completely repealed, do you think that the gun lobby would then let this go forward?

Loretta Weinberg: No.

Earlier in the story, Stahl said that the so-called smart guns could help on-duty cops because it would prevent criminals from using the cop’s gun on the cop as has been the case so often. As the story shows, it worked for James Bond in the movie Skyfall when a bad guy tried to shoot 007 with his own gun.

The New Jersey Childproof Handgun Law mandates that once the Attorney General of that state certifies that so-called smart or personalized handguns are available for retail sale anywhere in the United States that only these sort of guns can be sold to consumers in New Jersey. However, there are exceptions and the biggest one is this:

b. The provisions of this section shall not apply to handguns to be sold, transferred, assigned
and delivered for official use to: (1) State and local law enforcement officers of this State; (2)
federal law enforcement officers and any other federal officers and employees required to carry
firearms in the performance of their official duties and (3) members of the Armed Forces of the
United States or of the National Guard.

 Given this large and glaring exception to the personalized handgun mandate in New Jersey, why didn’t Ms. Stahl ask Sen. Weinberg something along these lines:

Stahl: Sen. Weinberg, given that police officers guns are often turned on them by criminals, why did you specifically exempt law enforcement officers from your bill?

Weinberg: Ummm. Because cops need a reliable gun and this technology is not reliable? Can we get back to talking about how it is the NRA’s fault that none of these guns are available for sale!

I would posit that Stahl did not ask the question because she already knew the answer or, at least, the producers of the segment knew it. To ask the question would have muddied the narrative and that just wouldn’t do.

You can see the whole episode here.

A Plea For Attention

The Brady Campaign and the other older gun prohibitionist groups such as the Violence Policy Center and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (sic) have been marginalized by Michael Bloomberg and his money. His Illegal Mayors, his merger with Shannon Watts and the Demanding Mommies, and his willingness to parachute legions of lobbyists into purple states like Colorado to get new laws imposed have created a far more dangerous foe to gun rights than the Brady Campaign.

It is within this context that we should examine the lawsuit brought yesterday in New Jersey by the Brady Campaign to force certification of the so-called “smart gun”. While it may be seen as a plea for attention, such pleas by a marginalized foe can be dangerous.

The lawsuit filed yesterday seeks to force NJ Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman to comply with the reporting requirements of the Personalized Handgun Law. By doing so, it could trigger the 3-year clock after which only “personalized handguns” may be sold in New Jersey. Unlike the California microstamping law which allows existing handguns on the California Handgun Roster to still be sold, there is no grandfathering in of existing handguns.

New Jersey is an anomaly in that its Attorney General is appointed and not elected. The Attorney General is appointed by the Governor and then confirmed by the NJ State Senate much like the US Attorney General. Mr. Hoffman, the Acting Attorney General, was appointed to the position when his predecessor was appointed to fill the US Senate seat held by the late Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Politically, he is registered as an Independent. His law career has been primarily in the public sector with the bulk of it being as a trial attorney in the US Department of Justice Civil Division and as an Assistant US Attorney for the District of New Jersey. Hoffman, while he was politically astute enough to get appointed Acting AG, seems to be more a bureaucrat than a politician.

The Brady Campaign sent Hoffman letters in February and in April noting that the Attorney General’s Office had failed to do its semi-annual reports on the availability of personalized handguns since 2003. The February letter mentioned the Armatrix iP1 pistol and asked that he file the requisite report with the Governor and Legislature affirming that it was available for sale. The April letter was a reminder and hinted of further action.

I have to believe that the Brady Campaign had the complaint written and ready to go when the time was right. It is no coincidence that the lawsuit was filed in Mercer County Superior Court the day after Ernst Mauch, designer of the Armatrix iP1 pistol, had an op-ed published in the Washington Post. Whether or not Herr Mauch colluded with the Brady Campaign on the timing is up for speculation but it certainly looks suspicious. The timeline of information requests presented in the complaint makes clear that the Brady Campaign and its affiliate NJ Million Moms (sic) had been planning this since 2013.

The complaint itself is rather straight forward with the exception of the recitation of accidental shootings by children with handguns. It basically says the Attorney General of NJ was supposed to be putting out semi-annual reports on personalized handguns (NJS 2C:58-2.3(c), the one report from 2003 could not be found, and that Deputy AG Bruce Solomon had affirmed that no report had been issued from 2004-2012. The complaint goes on to say that a dealer in California had offered a personalized handgun for sale and that a Maryland dealer had received one from the manufacturer. This is important to the case because of how the statute determines personalized handguns are available (NJS 2C:58-2.3(b)).

For the purposes of this section, personalized handguns shall be deemed to be available for retail sales purposes if at least one manufacturer has delivered at least one production model of a personalized handgun to a registered or licensed wholesale or retail dealer in New Jersey or any other state. As used in this subsection, the term “production model” shall mean a handgun which is the product of a regular manufacturing process that produces multiple copies of the same handgun model, and shall not include a prototype or other unique specimen that is offered for sale.

The fact that the NJ Attorney General’s Office has screwed up by not issuing the semi-annual reports is a given. The question remains as to whether the so-called smart guns available in California or delivered to dealer in Maryland were actual production models or prototypes. The Attorney General’s Office, if it was smart and/or pressured to do so by Gov. Chris Christie, could issue the required report immediately, affirm that no “production models” were available for sale, that only specimens or prototypes had been delivered, and ask for the case to be dismissed as moot. Whether they are smart enough or politically agile enough to pull that off remains to be seen.

As I noted earlier, even a marginalized foe can be dangerous. This lawsuit shows that Brady Campaign, while losing in the court of public opinion, still is astute enough to have been planning this assault on gun rights for well over a year. It calls for an energetic response from our side.

An Offer We Can’t Refuse? Not Quite.

New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) thinks she has an offer that gun owners can’t refuse. I think she has been watching too many re-runs of The Sopranos.

In an exclusive interview with MSNBC (which should tell you something right there), Weinberg said she will introduce legislation to repeal New Jersey’s so-called “smart gun” law if the National Rifle Association will agree to not stand in the way of the technology.

Weinberg said that if opposition to the New Jersey law is stopping smart guns from being sold, she will seek to have it changed – if the NRA agrees to stop standing in the way of smart gun technology.

“If, in fact, the NRA will make a public commitment to not stand in the way of the manufacture, distribution or sale of any gun that is limited by technology to the use of only its owner,” Weinberg said, “then I will ask the New Jersey legislature to amend the law.”

Weinberg said she was taking the position in an attempt to meet smart gun opponents “right on their own ground,” since “whatever goalposts they set for you, they move them.”

“I have never been involved in an issue that results in the kind of vitriolic pushback that I get both personally and professionally when I’m involved in something as simple as gun safety,” she added.

Weinberg makes the same mistake that many in the gun prohibitionist community makes. She assumes that the NRA is a monolithic organization that merely needs to snap its fingers for gun right supporters to fall into line. That may be the case with the astroturf organizations that support gun control but it doesn’t work in a movement where you have genuine grassroots. The NRA is led as much by the grassroots as the grassroots is led by the NRA. In other words, they both exert influence.

As to Weinberg’s comments about the pushback she gets on “something as simple as gun safety”, it is because it isn’t about gun safety. It is about control and interfering with an enumerated Constitutional right. If it was really about safety, then the first group to have so-called smart guns would be cops as so many of them have been shot with their own firearms. That said, the New Jersey law specifically exempts law enforcement and the military. Their new handguns are not required to be “personalized handguns” as they are called in the bill.

So Loretta, thanks for the offer but no thanks. It is an offer that we can refuse.

Technology Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Trump The Second Amendment

The Wall Street Journal had an article today about the development of so-called smart guns and how this may trigger a decade old law in New Jersey. In 2002 New Jersey passed a law saying that within three years after a so-called smart gun is available for sale on the US market and that the state’s Attorney General has certified it as reliable, then all new handguns sold there must have that technology.

BATFE has approved the German-made iP1 Pistol by Armatix for importation into the US and it is expected to hit the market by the end of the year. It has also be certified for California’s handgun roster. The iP1 pistol uses a RFID chip which requires communication with a special watch. In addition, the “Intelligun” from Kodiak Industries in Utah which uses a fingerprint-scan is also about to come to market.

“The technology is here,” said Nicola Bocour, a director at Ceasefire NJ, a gun-violence (sic) prevention group. “Apple is using biometrics with its smartphones. Guns are next.”

Backers of New Jersey’s law and signed by then-Gov. James McGreevey hope 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.

The New Jersey law specifically exempts law enforcement from having to use personalized guns. If the law’s authors thought the technology not reliable enough for law enforcement use, then why is it considered good enough for the public?

Professor Teret is quite mistaken if he thinks this law doesn’t infringe “anyone’s rights”. The technology isn’t free. The iP1 Pistol costs $1,400 while the Intelligun grips from Kodiak cost $399. How is requiring a citizen to pay for expensive technology in order to exercise an enumerated right not an infringement? Did not the US Supreme Court say in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that a poll tax infringed upon the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment? How, pray tell, is requiring expensive technology, which may or may not work, not the functional equivalent of a poll tax?

I won’t get into the downsides of the technology which I think are numerous or the adverse self-protection potentialities of it. I would point to a recent poll that states a wide majority of Americans oppose the technology and doubt its reliability. This is a technology that, in my opinion, has limited use and is not one that I’d stake my life upon.