A brief segment on Fox Business Network about President Obama’s push to develop smart gun technology included falsehoods about Obama’s plan, the availability and reliability of smart guns, and law enforcement’s position on the issue.
On April 29, President Obama announced a plan for the Defense Department (DOD), Homeland Security Department (DHS), and Justice Department (DOJ) to assist in the development of technology that allows only the authorized user of a firearm to fire it. As Obama explained, the purpose of the initiative is “identifying the requirements that smart guns would have to meet in order for law enforcement to purchase and use them effectively - and keep themselves and the public safer in the process.”
During the May 3 broadcast of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich offered a litany of falsehoods to attack the Obama administration’s announcement:
- Varney opened the segment by claiming Obama “might use executive orders to push for smart guns.”
In fact, Obama’s announcement was an update on his administration’s January announcement of executive actions, not orders. Conservative media frequently mislabel executive actions -- where, in this case, federal agencies are operating within their respective purviews to help expedite the development of technology – by terming them executive orders in an attempt to make claims about supposed Obama administration overreach.
- Calling smart guns “actually very dumb,” Pavlich claimed that “there are a lot of federal law enforcement agencies, and local police departments, and sheriff’s departments that are pushing back.”
First, several federal executive departments that administer law enforcement agencies – DOJ, DOD, and DHS -- are involved in carrying out the administration’s plan, not opposing it.
There has been only one high-profile law enforcement group that has been outspoken on Obama’s plan, and that group has a major conflict of interest. The head of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Jim Pasco, was quoted in several news outlets criticizing Obama’s plan, without the disclosure that the FOP’s charity has received large amounts of money from the National Shooting Sporting Foundation, a gun industry trade group that often attacks smart gun technology. A 2010 investigation by The Washington Post identified several instances where the interests of clients at Pasco’s lobbying business aligned with positions subsequently taken by FOP.
- Pavlich claimed that “smart gun technology has been on the market for years now.”
While smart gun technology has been in development for years, smart guns are not yet available for purchase by the general public in America, except for in rare instances. This is because gun dealers largely refuse to stock the first market-ready smart gun, the Armatix iP1, a semi-automatic handgun that uses radio-frequency identification technology. In 2014, a Maryland gun dealer was the subject of death threats and harassment from gun rights activists after the dealer announced his intention to sell the iP1. He later canceled his plan to sell the firearm. A similar incident occurred in California when a gun store attempted to sell the iP1.
- Pavlich claimed smart gun technology is “not reliable” and “when you’re talking about a life-or-death self-defense situation, people just aren’t going to go there and risk it with the smart gun technology.”
Pavlich’s claim echoes a frequent attack from the National Rifle Association, which often makes false claims about the reliability of smart gun technology. Smart guns have to meet certain reliability benchmarks to be sold. For example, to be sold in California, the iP1 had to be able to fire 600 rounds with a malfunction rate of less than 1 percent.
Obama’s announcement on smart guns also said the DOD would continue to allow manufacturers to use a testing facility in Maryland to improve reliability. According to a leading developer of the technology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the next generation of smart guns will have an operational failure rate “comparable to mechanical failure rate in many consumer side-arms.”
From the May 3 broadcast of Varney & Co.:
STUART VARNEY: President Obama, he might use executive orders to push for smart guns. What do you make of this?
KATIE PAVLICH: Well, the problem with smart guns is they’re actually very dumb. And there are a lot of federal law enforcement agencies, and local police departments, and sheriff’s departments that are pushing back on President Obama’s idea that smart guns should be used, not only just in law enforcement, but across the country. The fact is that smart gun technology has been on the market for years now and people don’t buy them because they are not reliable. The president’s argument is that, look you have to be able to have guns that can only be fired by their owners, but when you’re talking about a life-or-death self-defense situation, people just aren’t going to go there and risk it with the smart gun technology.