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N.J. Attorney General Rejects Brady Campaign Bid to Trigger Handgun Ban

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Brady Campaign’s attempt to require “smart guns” in New Jersey recently hit a significant hurdle.  In November, Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman issued a report that concluded the allegedly available “smart gun,” the Armatix iP1, did not meet New Jersey’s legal definition of a “personalized handgun.”   A lawsuit filed in May by the Brady Campaign sought to force the attorney general to issue a report finding that the iP1 is a “personalized handgun” and would therefore trigger a more than decade old New Jersey law.  Under the law, all new handguns sold in New Jersey have to be personalized 30 months after a single production model of a personalized handgun is delivered to a firearm dealer in New Jersey or another state. 

The New Jersey law that requires the attorney general to issue reports on the availability of personalized handguns has specific requirements that a handgun must meet before it is considered a “personalized handgun.”  To meet the definition the firearm must be “a handgun which incorporates within its design, and as part of its original manufacture, technology which automatically limits its operational use and which cannot be readily deactivated, so that it may only be fired by an authorized or recognized user.”   Additionally, the law provides a further condition that “no make or model of a handgun shall be deemed to be a personalized handgun unless the Attorney General has determined, through testing or other reasonable means, that the handgun meets any reliability standards that the manufacturer may require for its commercially available handguns that are not personalized or, if the manufacturer has no such reliability standards, the handgun meets the reliability standards generally used in the industry for commercially available handguns.”

According to the report, officials from the attorney general’s office met with a representative of Armatix to determine whether the iP1 meets the definition of a personalized handgun.   The officials discovered that the iP1 uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) to link the handgun to a wristwatch that can be worn by the user.  As long as the iP1 is held within 10 inches of the watch, the electronics will not prevent the handgun from firing.  While RFID is a suitable means of “personalization” under the law, the report concluded that the iP1 “does not satisfy the statutory definition because, as a matter of design, the pistol may be fired by a person who is not an authorized or recognized user.”   Since the law specifically requires that a personalized handgun can only be used by an “authorized or recognized user”, the iP1 is not a personalized handgun because it can be fired by anyone, authorized user or not, as long as it is held within 10 inches of the connected wristwatch. 

The report noted that no reliability testing was conducted on the iP1 since it was determined not to meet the definition of a personalized handgun.  Presumably, had the iP1 met the definition, such testing would have been conducted before it became the only handgun available for sale in New Jersey.  

While the Brady Campaign continues to insist that its focus is “gun safety,” its lawsuit has to the potential to result in a near complete ban on the future sale of handguns in New Jersey.   As much as Brady might wish otherwise, the Armatix has not ushered in a tide of similar designs in its wake.   In fact, the attempted commercial introduction of the Armatix has floundered so badly that it remains the sole example that Brady can cite as even approximating a “smart gun.”  Thus, were it to trigger the New Jersey law, the result would surely collide with the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.  There, the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to possess arms “in common use at the time” for lawful purposes.  Even the Brady Campaign cannot seriously argue that all handguns other than the iP1, an $1800, 10- shot pistol chambered in .22LR, are not commonly used for lawful purposes.

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