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Smart-gun technology faces uphill battle

Is there any hope for the so-called "smart"-gun that can only fire when its owner pulls the trigger?

Gun-control advocates like the idea, and for a time one firearm seller was behind it. But gun enthusiasts are determined to squash the effort, and now the future for the smart gun is in doubt.

Armatix, the main company developing a smart-gun for sale in the U.S., says its .22-caliber iP1 handgun works only after its owner enters a five-digit code into a special watch that comes with the weapon. The watch then sends a wireless signal to a computer chip in the gun, allowing it to fire.

The firearm industry is dead set against a smart gun, arguing that commercialization of the iP1 could lead the government to require the technology on all guns.

"NRA recognizes that the 'smart guns' issue clearly has the potential to mesh with the anti-gunner's agenda, opening the door to a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology," the National Rifle Association said on the website of its legislative arm.

The gun lobby has cracked down on any move by Armatix to get into stores. That includes a campaign against the Oak Tree Gun Club, a shop in California whose owner agreed to sell the iP1. "It could revolutionize the gun industry," the shop's owner, James Mitchell, told The Washington Post in February.

Activists inundated the club with boycott threats, The New York Times reports. They also personally threatened Belinda Padilla, the woman who leads Armatix's American division. The club stopped selling the gun and took down all signage and merchandise related to the company.

But proponents of smart guns or a similar technology are not backing down. Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway is offering a $1 million prize to whoever develops technology that makes guns harder to misuse and easier to track.

"We believe that if consumers would like to purchase a personalized firearm to help keep their family safe, they should have that option," Conway told TechCrunch.

Some companies are working in this area. Yardarm, for example, can install a sensor on guns that alerts an owner's cell phone when the weapon is picked up. Owners can use a phone to engage the trigger safety on the weapon. Another company, Kodiak Arms, makes a fingerprint sensor that will only unlock a gun for an owner and any authorized users.

Can these technologies exist in a traditional gun industry? In and of themselves, perhaps. But fears of a government crackdown are making the gun lobby wary of change. It will be an uphill battle.

"I don't oppose new gun technology," wrote one commenter on The Washington Post's article. "I oppose a government telling me that I have to adopt said technology."
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