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Smart Guns Only: Coming to New Jersey?

The Brady Campaign Goes to Court

In 2002, the New Jersey legislature passed and the governor signed, a handgun law designed to basically ban the sale of the traditional handgun in the state.  In its place, one can purchase a so-called smart gun.  Although the state would not go so far as to confiscate other handguns from gun owners in the state, their sale would be prohibited by licensed wholesalers and retailers.  If a New Jersey resident wanted a handgun, then their only option- excluding the black market- would be a smart gun.

Under this law, the state attorney general is tasked with monitoring smart gun technology, use and reliability.   A smart gun is one that is rendered operational by the registered owner of that gun using a variety of technological options.  Biometric information, fingerprints, radio frequencies and touch memory are but a few of those options.  That is the technology aspect of the mandate in New Jersey.

As for its use (or sale), within 30 months of the state attorney general’s determination that such guns exist and can be sold and used by licensed firearm holders, the state was to essentially ban the sale of traditional handguns within the state.  For a short period of time, both Maryland and California had such guns in their inventory.  However, that was one licensed dealer in Maryland and one licensed dealer in California.  Under the New Jersey law’s parameters, the definition of “use” had technically been met.

Regarding “reliability,” the issue gets more tricky.  The fact is that there are no industry standards regarding the reliability of handgun use.  There are some voluntary industry standards in other areas of handgun manufacture and use, but none of them deal with how the firearm should properly function when the trigger is pressed.  Therefore, for purposes of the New Jersey law, the “standards” are remarkably low and produces a case where the manufacturer actually determines the reliability of the firearm which the state must then accept.  Ironically, the law exempts certain classes of people like law enforcement, the military, and armored car guards.  These are three professions where reliability of a firearm should not be an issue and the mere fact they are exempt is tacit legislative acknowledgement that smart guns are not “reliable.”

The Brady Campaign, a gun control organization, has filed suit in New Jersey courts to force the attorney general to prepare and present a report to the governor and legislature.  Once this report is issued, it would trigger a 30-month period after which the sale of traditional handguns would be banned.  It should be noted that under the statute, only a report need be issued stating that a smart gun has been “invented” and introduced into the market and that legislative or gubernatorial acceptance of the report is not necessary to trigger the law.  The Brady Campaign is using the Maryland and California sales as examples of smart guns being introduced into the market even though both dealers in these states have since ceased selling them due to gun owner protests.

But according to the Brady Campaign, even if these Maryland and California examples are not proof that the statutory burden has been met to force a report, another manufacturer in Germany has developed a smart gun.  That company is Armatix.  Currently, their handgun is sold exclusively in Europe and retails for $1,800.  It is only available in .22 caliber which is better than nothing for self-defense purposes, but hardly a good choice when it comes to stopping power.  It works only if close proximity to a special watch that the owner wears.  Now for the weird part: Armatix has filed for a patent for a remote “kill switch” which could be activated by a non-owner.  Although one does not expect your average thug to first hack into the computer chips that activate these guns, this patent introduces even more reliability issues into the equation.

The Brady Campaign maintains that the Attorney General of New Jersey has a nondiscretionary duty to issue a report and they may be technically correct.  According to most sources, the state has never released a report on the issue either way except possibly in 2003 although the state attorney general cannot actually find that report.  Instead the bigger issue is whether the Brady Campaign even has standing to force the attorney general to produce a report since they must issue that report to the governor or the state legislature.  In order for the Democratic controlled state legislature to pursue the case in court they must first approve it and it would appear there are not enough votes.  Further, Chris Christie has expressed no desire to force his attorney general to issue the report.  Thus, that leaves private, special-interest entities like the Brady Campaign.

Either way, the law if enforced would basically ban the sale of all handguns in New Jersey except for a .22 caliber, $1,800 smart gun.  That would violate the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller.  It is probable that the New Jersey Superior Court would never reach that issue given the standing concerns here, although one never really knows in New Jersey what their courts think.  The writ of mandamus sought by the Brady Campaign is controlled by a New Jersey supreme court decision from 1953 which states, “the remedy of mandamus must be denied where equity or paramount public interest so dictates.”  If the issuance of a writ of mandamus by the court upon the attorney general occurs, it would trigger a more important fact- violating the supreme Law of the Land vis-a-vis Heller and the Second Amendment.

In the practical sense, the mere presence of the law on the books whether a report is issued or not and for whatever reason is very chilling.  What is to stop the Brady Campaign from pressuring lawmakers in New Jersey (or elsewhere) from seeking a writ of mandamus?  What is to stop a future Democratic, Leftist New Jersey governor from forcing his appointed attorney general to issue a report?  In New Jersey, unlike many other states, the state attorney general is not elected, but appointed by the governor and serves at his discretion.  Therefore, it is important that everyone who respects the Constitution in general and the Second Amendment specifically to be vigilant against these backdoor, stealth attempts to remove or prevent law abiding gun owners from purchasing handguns for self-defense.

Without realizing it since they have this unrealistic Utopian view of the issue, the Brady Campaign is playing a dangerous and potentially deadly game.  Imagine if there was such a handgun ban and the only ones a New Jersey resident could legally buy is a .22 caliber gun which is maybe 98.5% reliable and you better hope you are wearing your special watch.  Meanwhile, the criminal has a more powerful and more reliable handgun which places the legal gun owner at a serious disadvantage.  That 1.5% difference in reliability may be all the difference needed between life and death.  And while an estimated 99.9999% of all handguns produced would be denied to law abiding citizens, the criminals would still be holding one of those not-so-smart-but definitely-more-reliable- and-more-powerful handguns.

This writer has no opposition to smart guns per se, just the fact that they are being legislatively forced upon law abiding citizens.  There may be a market for smart handguns, but one suggests that that market is so miniscule that it would be prohibitively expensive to purchase one or for a retailer to even offer one for sale.  For example, the person who wants to take their gun and shoot some bottles in the woods might benefit from a smart gun.  But the person who purchases a gun for self-defense would be a fool to purchase a smart gun for the reasons given.  And at the end of the day that is what most Leftists do not understand- handguns are for self-defense in the hands of the law-abiding.

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