June 1, 2002
NICS for Private Sales, Smart Gun Issues Persist
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The anti-gunners have been on a losing streak for almost a year and a half now, but nobody is feeling sorry for them.
Like the old saying about the man who sells insurance, nobody has endurance like the anti-gunners.
If you throw them out the door, they come in the window. If you flush them down the drain, they back up on you.
Given the changed public attitude about personal safety since 9-11, some recent loses in the courts, and the statements of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Solicitor General Ted Olson, youd think the anti-gunners might cool it. Heck, even the Democratic Party treats them like relatives that have overstayed their welcome and offended the neighbors.
But people like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) keep coming back again and again. This dynamic duo and their confreres at the state and federal level keep trying to resuscitate two of their favorite gimmicks: background checks/registration for private sales linked to gun shows, and so-called smart gun technology.
While they might have been on different sides of the 2000 presidential campaign, anti-gun soul mates McCain and Lieberman joined forces recently in a radio ad campaign advocating background checks on gun show sales.
The ads, which began airing in the Washington, DC, area recently, link gun show background checks with the current terrorist threat to the US. It just makes no sense to allow criminals and terrorists to evade background checks at a time when we are tightening homeland security, McCain says in the commercial.
Americans for Gun Safety (AGS), which is spending roughly $50,000 on the radio campaign and plans to follow shortly with a televised ad blitz, is hoping the publicity will build support for McCains and Liebermans legislative proposal to extend the current requirement for background checks for dealer sales to all private secondary sales.
And having failed to move their own bill through the normal Senate legislative process, McCain said he hopes to attach the provision to a larger, perhaps critically important, bill making its way through the Senate.
It should be recorded that AGS is the same outfit that paid for the TV commercials that McCain fronted during the Colorado and Oregon referendums to impose background checks on private firearms sales in those states. AGS and its billionaire founder, monster.com entrepreneur Andrew McKelvey, are hoping that money can buy them another success as in Colorado and Oregon. Theyve already paid for advertising in movie theaters, too.
In recent weeks, AGS, which really has no grassroots membership base, has run radio ads in the home states of Sens. Wayne Allard of Colorado and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon criticizing the two men for not supporting the bill. Both Republicans are up for re-election this year, and they both come from states that have imposed the background checks at gun shows by ballot initiatives.
AGS may have a harder time with their current strategy. The audience is different, and the public attitude is different.
That is not preventing the troika of McKelvey, McCain and Lieberman from trying to force Congress into an election-year gun debate over their anti-gunowner proposal. But even if the measure makes it out of the Senate, House leaders said its prospects are dim.
I dont think anybody in the House is looking for an opportunity to fight about guns, said House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX). Were it at all possible to ignore it, we will. Otherwise well just have to fight it out in conference.
Whats especially interesting is that many Democrats, including many national party strategists, are no more eager for a showdown on the gun issue in an election year than are many in the GOP caucus. Another problem is that the McCain-Lieberman proposal has opposition from both pro- and anti-control lawmakers. The former complain that its too weak; the latter believe it too intrusive and restrictive.
While the push is on for a private sale (gun show) background check bill, the persistent anti-gunners are also flogging the smart gun stratagem at the state and federal level.
The stated aim is wrapped in the current public and business community fascination with technology. Some say it is the most significant proposed innovation in firearm technology in decades, while others believe it departs as much from reality as the idea of a genie leaping from a rubbed bottle or brass lamp. What they consider a smart gun is one that would recognize its authorized master and perform only for that master.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) believes that the smart gun concept is plain stupid. And while Sarah Brady, and those that have hired her to shill the anti-gun cause, decry the NRA position, other leading anti-gunners agree with the NRAalthough not for the same reasons. The Violence Policy Center is afraid that it will lead to a marketing bonanza for gun manufacturers.
Nobody knows what a smart gun will be and how it will actually work. Maybe it will know its masters or mistress fingerprints. Maybe it will recognize a magnetic ring or other unique electronic signal pulse that can decode whatever type of trigger lock is part of the system. Or, in some of the more fanciful conjectures, it might have a sensor that would be capable of recognizing the unique way you grip the handle. Some researchers even think other biometric or bioinformation systems might be used.
At this point, however, a smart gunmore accurately described as a gun with user recognition technology (URT)is a long way off. Another term used to describe such a system is personalized weapon recognition system (PWRS).
Whatever you call it, there are at least two intensive efforts afoot to make one of these systems workURT, PWRS or whatever.
The Department of Justice announced in 2000 a partnership with Smith & Wesson and FN Manufacturing to study the idea, stemming from the FBIs concern that 57 police officers were slain by their own weapons grabbed from them during the 1990s. Another leading gun maker, Taurus International, is paired up with the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to develop the guns. S&W has also joined in the NJIT research and development consortium, and there may even be other gun manufacturers involved.
That NJIT effort, spearheaded by Dr. Donald H. Sebastian, is close to creating a technology that would recognize the grip of the owner or various owners, so the gun could be used by a married couple or 50 members of a police squad. (The main police objection to smart guns is that if the system fails, it must fail in the operable mode, and other officers must be able to shoot the gun if the primary user is incapacitated. Thats actually the prime objective for any law-abiding gunowner.)
Sebastian, whose lab has gotten $1.5 million from the state of New Jersey to work on the project since 1999, has petitioned the Department of Justice for another $2.5 million for three years to perfect it.
Were working with something called new biometrics, which basically is that the gun can identify the user by the size of the hand, length of each finger and the ingrained pattern of the muscles when you squeeze, said Sebastian, NJIT vice president for research and development.
In Maryland, a 2000 law mandates that the Handgun Roster Board report on status report of smart gun technology by this July, and the Brady Bunch is hopeful of passage of related legislation in New Jersey and California.
What is really absurd about the whole smart gun push is that lawmakerseager for headlineswill push proposals to require smart guns by a date, when nobody really knows if it will ever be available, answer all the objections, and be affordable by the average citizen.
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