Just How Smart Can We Make a Thing

Download or Read Below

In this issue:
– Article: Just How Smart Can We Make a Thing?

– Advisories: Our Most Recent Advisories

– Download: Three best-practice whitepapers

Just How Smart Can We Make a Thing?

There are those who invent.  Those who design.  Those who manufacture.  And those who legislate.

The genius thrills at the idea.  The artist caresses the line.  Production folks say “can” and “can’t” an awful lot.  And the legislator simply comes at the same topic from a completely different approach, line of sight and target.

We start our Advisory this Friday morning with this bit of a caricature because we’d like to discuss “smart technology” for firearms.  It’s a sore topic for firearms FFLs, from R&D to production, and it has reached an all-new high in California where a microstamping law went into effect last May, the NSSF has sued, a German manufacturer has now introduced a smart gun for sale, and there’s a bill pending to split CA into six, separate states.

Let’s start with a rewind to 2007.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was then Governor of California when he signed the “Crime Gun Identification Act” into law.  There sat the legislation until 2013 when the CA Attorney General certified the microstamping technology as free from patent claims.

California was not the only state looking into advanced technology for firearms and ammunition.  Additional states with pending bills during this period included NY, CT, MD, IL, RI, MA, WI and NJ.  

The federal government was also dabbling in the technology waters, lead by Sen. Schumer (NY) and then House Speaker Pelosi (CA) with bills that failed in 2012 for their fifth consecutive year in a row.  President Obama turned the topic into his January 2013 Presidential Action Item #4, directing the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and effective use of new gun safety technology.  The National Institute of Justice released the 96-page gun safety technology report June 2013 on existing and emerging technologies.

As of May 21, 2013, when California certified the technology and activated the law, it became the only jurisdiction in the U.S. to require manufacturers to imprint a unique alphanumeric code on both the firing pin of a pistol and also in its breech, so that, upon firing, the code would be imprinted onto the cartridge.

Compounding the implementation directive in CA is the process through which a manufacturer becomes certified to sell a gun in CA.  The firearms certification process requires firearms to be retested as modifications and upgrades are made, and the earlier version runs out of inventory and thus becomes an obsolete permitted firearm, no longer in production and no longer in inventory.

Several major manufacturers have already announced their decision to terminate efforts at designing firearms with the microstamping technology to request certification to be able to enter the market for sales in that one state.  The legislative response has been to suggest that other companies will fill this void, but so far only one gun has been introduced.  The German manufacturer Armatix unveiled the Armatix iP1 pistol, for sale at approximately $1,800 if combined with the RFID watch at only one U.S. location, the Oak Tree Gun Club in CA.  That may soon change if a $1 million prize turns out to be a sufficient incentive for inventors – it is what has been offered by Ron Conway of Silicon Valley for smart gun technology.  And some of the names being bantered about as up-and-coming in this arena include TriggerSmart (Ireland), Kodiak Arms (UT), Yardarm (CA) and even NJIT.

The broad use of the term “smart gun” is overarching and refers to all firearms with some level of user authorization associated with functionality.  The concept is that only one user at a time would be capable to using a firearm.  It could be reprogrammed upon sale or transfer.

Examples of “passive” firearms technology that is person-specific includes activation through voice recognition, fingerprint or other hand detail, or iris scan.  Examples of “active” firearms technology are tokens, magnetic stripe badges, proximity cards, combinations, gunlocks, trigger locks, and gun safes.

A short rendition of some of the challenges presented by the application of technology to the use of a firearm includes dirt, gloves, voice changes attenuated by stress, and battery life.  Any one-technology idea is sufficiently new to still require a potent R&D investment without a clear path to the marketplace and with active resistance among consumers against adoption.

And, just so you don’t accidentally shoot yourself in the foot over all of this, take heed:  a 2002 law passed in New Jersey, requiring that only smart guns be sold in the state within three years of a smart gun being sold anywhere in the country, as reported by the NJ Attorney general to the Governor and the Legislature.  Stay tuned for the next headline in smart gun technology – this time from the East Coast.

Orchid Advisors provides electronic newsletter (“Advisory and Alert”) and blogs for general informational purposes only. It should not be considered a formal or informal interpretation of law. It is not intended as professional counsel, should not be considered legal advice and should not be used as such.