Smart Guns Aren’t for Sale in America Because of a New Jersey Law

Gun-rights supporter Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have repealed it because it would’ve instituted a new gun law Christie called “offensive.”

Split photo: Chris Christie, New Jersey governor, and a smart gun developed by NJIT

Christie photo by Bob Jagendorf (license); smart gun prototype photo via of New Jersey Institute of Technology

Chris Christie yesterday vetoed a bill that would have required New Jersey gun dealers to carry at least one “smart gun” for sale. Christie used a pocket veto, which means the Democratic legislature cannot override it.

Smart guns have been developed by several different sources, but are not yet for sale in the U.S. A smart gun can only be fired by an authorized user (though some smart gun tech has a way for authorized users to override that and allow anyone to fire it). The New Jersey Institute of Technology’s smart gun prototype uses “dynamic grip” technology to prevent anyone else from firing it. NJIT’s smart-gun project was begun at the behest of the state, but was eventually killed.

The gun-lobby says it’s agnostic to smart gun tech, but that’s a lie: The CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing Company was dropped after backlash to the company’s smart gun prototype; the NRA famously boycotted Smith & Wesson after it agreed to develop smart gun technology as part of a deal with the Bill Clinton administration. Some people go even further: A Maryland gun dealer, who planned to sell a new smart gun, said he received death threats. (Some death threats are empty, but these presumably came from people with guns.)

Smart gun critics are correct: As a software solution, smart guns would pose a bevy of additional questions. But they’ve never made it to market because of New Jersey: A state law, passed in 2002, currently requires gun dealers to only sell smart guns — three years after such a product has been introduced to the market. The NRA and other gun-rights groups have successfully made sure no one is selling smart guns to prevent the ban on regular gun sales in New Jersey. Gun-rights activists fear, accurately, that the introduction of smart guns would lead to more legislation requiring all guns to have this “smart” technology.

The bill Christie vetoed, introduced by State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, actually repealed the current law requiring smart guns in New Jersey three years after they become available. She told NJ.com she’d hoped the law’s repeal would lead to innovation in the smart gun market, and was disappointed in Christie’s veto. “Maybe this time the governor will stay around New Jersey long enough to see what it is he’s pocket vetoing,” Weinberg said.

Christie in his veto message chastized the “relentless campaign by the Democratic legislature to make New Jersey as inhospitable as possible to lawful gun ownership and sales.”

“Most offensively, this mandate represents yet another constraint on businesses within the State, and likely is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause,” Christie wrote. “It also would introduce unnecessary bureaucracy into the analysis of whether firearms equipped with this anticipated technology will represent a reliable option for individuals to protect themselves and their families in their homes. There is no telling what the next step would be down this path of gun restrictions if this bill were enacted.”

In the veto of a related bill, Christie added he wanted to relax New Jersey’s gun laws more. He wants to make it a “shall-issue” state — every adult who wants a concealed carry permit for a gun and passes a background check can get one. Currently, New Jersey’s concealed carry permit regulations require applicants to demonstrate a “justifiable need” for a gun. Pennsylvania and 41 other states are shall-issue states. The other bill Christie vetoed would, in his words, attempt “to reinforce this onerous standard [of justifiable need] of questionable constitutionality by elevating it from regulation to statute.”

“Christie’s conditional veto also strikes the bill’s new mandate that forces gun dealers to offer smart guns for sale, thereby blocking any attempt to ban traditional handguns,” the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action wrote in a release. “NRA previously testified that the bill forced market acceptance of a technologically unviable product which is harmful for self-defense and is nothing more than a tricky gun ban.”

Christie’s conditional vetoes sends the laws back to the statehouse, where they can be altered to meet his changes or be left to die. Smart guns remain in the research and development phase, but don’t expect to see them hit the market in New Jersey anytime soon.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.

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