What To Know About The NRA And Smart Guns

On April 29, the Obama administration released a report on what federal agencies can do to further develop smart gun technology that prevents anyone other than authorized users from discharging a firearm. With the gun industry already attacking Obama’s technology push, it is important to note that while the NRA claims it doesn’t oppose the technology’s development, its media and lobbying arms routinely make false claims about its reliability and promote conspiracy theories about the federal government wanting to use the technology to spy on gun owners.

Obama To Announce Plan To Further Develop Smart Gun Technology

President Obama Will Announce “Push” On Smart Guns. Politico reported April 28 that President Obama was “set to formally release findings from the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security Departments on ways to spur the development of guns that can be fired only by their owner”:

As early as Friday, Obama is set to formally release findings from the Defense, Justice and Homeland Security Departments on ways to spur the development of guns that can be fired only by their owner, according to industry and gun control sources. Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett is slated to preview the announcement for stakeholders on Thursday afternoon.

It’s an intensification of an effort kicked off in January, when Obama ordered federal agencies to explore such technology and report back, as part of his series of executive actions for “common sense” gun reforms. [Politico, 4/28/16]

Politico Report Also Credulously Repeated NRA’s Claim That It Doesn’t Oppose Development Of Smart Gun Technology. The April 28 Politico article claimed that the NRA is “not against funding research for smart guns or putting them on shelves.” [Politico, 4/28/16]

AP: “White House Is Announcing New Steps To Help Reduce Gun Violence” Including Via “Smart Guns.” The Associated Press reported April 29 that Obama had “announced new steps Friday to help curb gun violence, including by identifying the requirements that ‘smart guns’ would have to meet for law enforcement agencies to buy and use them.” AP quoted Obama saying, “As long as we’ve got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun.” In a report from the Department of Defense, Homeland Security Department, and Justice Department, the agencies said they “expect to complete the work of identifying the smart-gun requirements by October.” [Associated Press, 4/29/16]

NRA Claims It Doesn’t Oppose Development Of Smart Gun Technology

NRA Statement On Smart Guns: “The NRA Doesn’t Oppose The Development Of ‘Smart’ Guns.” A statement on the NRA Institute for Legislative Action website claims that the NRA does not oppose the development of smart gun technology, only that it “opposes any law prohibiting Americans from acquiring or possessing firearms that don’t possess ‘smart’ gun technology.” The NRA statement also claims no smart guns are “viable” for use:

Conceptually, a “smart” gun is one that incorporates technology that would prevent the gun from being used by an unauthorized person. Currently, no viable guns equipped with such technology exist.

Gun control supporters advocate laws to prohibit the sale of firearms that do not possess “smart” technology, as a way to prohibit the manufacture of traditional handguns, raise the price of handguns that would be allowed to be sold and, presumably, to imbed into handguns a device that would allow guns to be disabled remotely.

The NRA doesn’t oppose the development of “smart” guns, nor the ability of Americans to voluntarily acquire them. However, NRA opposes any law prohibiting Americans from acquiring or possessing firearms that don’t possess “smart” gun technology. [NRA-ILA, accessed 4/29/16]

But The NRA Frequently Attacks Smart Gun Technology In Development With False Or Baseless Claims About Reliability

NRA News Host Falsely Claimed First Smart Gun On The Market Had A 10 Percent Failure Rate. In 2014, after gun rights activists repeatedly attacked a Maryland gun store owner for selling the Armatix iP1, a handgun with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, NRA News host Cam Edwards falsely claimed on the NRA’s radio show “right now, this firearm has a failure rate of about 10 percent, which means in every 10-round magazine you're going to have one failure, right?" [NRA News, Cam & Company, 5/7/14]

But In Order To Be Sold In California, The Armatix Pistol Had To Pass A Test Demonstrating A 99 Percent Success Rate. According to a report from the National Institute of Justice, in order to be marketed in California, the iP1 had to be able to fire 20 rounds without a single malfunction and 600 rounds with six or fewer malfunctions (citations removed):

Test Laboratory (USTL) in Wichita, Kansas, a division of National Technical Systems, conducted testing required by California Penal Code Sections 31900 through 32100, and on January 24, 2013 USTL reported that the three sample Armatix iP1 pistols met the required specifications. Tests included conformation of a positive manually operated safety device [Penal Code section 31910, subdivision (b)(1)], firing tests, and drop safety tests.

Firing tests require the first 20 rounds be fired without a malfunction that is not due to a faulty magazine or ammunition as well as firing 600 rounds with no more than six malfunctions that are not due to a faulty magazine or ammunition. [National Institute of Justice, June 2013]

Leading Smart Gun Researcher: Current Failure Rate Is Less Than 1 Percent And The Next Generation Of Smart Guns Will Have A Failure Rate “Comparable To Mechanical Failure Rate In Many Consumer Side-Arms." Donald Sebastian, a leading researcher on smart gun technology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, responded to false attacks on smart gun reliability by writing on Facebook, “Current-gen is over 99% and next-gen is in design to achieve better than 1 failure in 1000 -comparable to mechanical failure rate in many consumer side-arms.” [Facebook.com, 5/7/14]

The NRA Claimed It Secretly Tested The Armatix IP1 And Found A Failure Rate Of Up To 40 Percent. The NRA’s test supposedly found a failure rate up to 40 times higher than government testing. The NRA claimed in a 2015 article “the best our experts could manage was nine consecutive rounds without a failure to fire (and that only once). Three or four misfires per magazine were common, despite using various brands of ammunition.” [America’s 1st Freedom, 11/12/15]

NRA Publication Baselessly Speculated That Hackers Or The Government Could Turn Off Smart Guns. A 2014 article in the NRA’s publication American Rifleman questioned whether RFID technology in smart guns could lead to a scenario where “a criminal, a hacker or even a government agency could turn your gun on or off anytime they wanted.” But as the NRA author conceded, “Could such active countermeasures be used to prevent an armed citizen’s firearm from being enabled? Not being a hacker or having access to an RFID-equipped firearm, I don’t know.” [American Rifleman, 4/25/14]

NRA News Promoted Claim That Smart Guns Are A “Dumb Idea.” The NRA’s media arm frequently promotes attacks on smart gun technology, including by featuring an article by gun blogger Robert Farago with the headline "'Smart' Guns, Dumb Idea" on the NRA News website:

[Media Matters, 5/9/14]

NRA Feature On Smart Guns Falsely Claimed No Smart Gun Has “Been Proven To Be Reliable Or Even Safe.” [America’s 1st Freedom, 12/23/15]

The NRA’s Media Arm Promotes Conspiracy Theories About Smart Guns And The Federal Government

NRA News Guest Falsely Claimed Eric Holder Advocated Using Smart Gun Technology To Spy On Gun Owners. After several conservative media outlets misrepresented comments made by then-Attorney General Eric Holder on developing smart gun technology, NRA News hosted a guest who claimed, “For some reason they feel like they need to keep an eye on where your gun is and where my gun is, and Eric Holder can do pretty much whatever he wants with government funds.” [NRA News, Cam & Company, 4/8/14 via Media Matters]

NRA News Guest Falsely Claimed Smart Gun Technology Involves Placing “GPS Tracking And Disabling Devices” In Guns. During a 2014 appearance on Cam & Company, National Review’s Charles C.W. Cook promoted his article “Smart Guns Are Dumb” with the conspiratorial claim, “I really struggle to imagine the Founding Fathers saying, yes, the federal government exists to put GPS tracking and disabling devices in the nation's firearms.” [NRA News, Cam & Company, 5/7/14 via Media Matters]

NRA Author Argued Smart Gun Technology Could Be A Government Ploy To Ban Guns. A writer for the NRA publication American Rifleman said of smart gun technology on the NRA’s radio show, “This technology, it's unproven, we don't know how well it works, we don't know how susceptible it is to hacking, we don't know whether it can be jammed, and you know you have politicians, let's be frank, who would just as soon ban all handguns.” [NRA News, Cam & Company, 5/5/14]