Only in CA: Mandating ‘smart guns’ in future with bill now

March 22, 2013

By Josephine Djuhana

Smart_Gun425x283“Owner-authorized” firearm technology. Biometric scanners. Guns with palm print readers that don’t go off unless the hand on the pistol grip had proper clearance. Sounds like something out of a James Bond movie — literally.

But this isn’t some fantasy-gadget hyper-tech weapon designed to circumvent plot holes for the silver screen. No, this currently expensive and obscure technology is what may be — at some point — all you can buy at a gun store near you, thanks to a California legislator.

SB 293, authored by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, would ban all guns without owner-authorized technology from retail sale in California 18 months after the state attorney general deems such technology to be readily available.

“Senseless violence occurs far too often when guns fall into the wrong hands,” DeSaulnier said in a press release last month. “We should make sure that guns are only used by the owners who are authorized to fire them. Many technologies exist to create this kind of safety mechanism, including biometric readers.”

The bill text provides that the attorney general would periodically “report to the governor and the Legislature regarding the progress made on the availability for retail sale of owner-authorized handguns.” Then, 18 months after the attorney general finds that owner-authorized handguns are sufficiently available, it would be officially illegal to sell guns without owner-authorized technology in the state of California.

Good intentions and unintended consequences

banner_headlineTiffany Whiten, a consultant in DeSaulnier’s Sacramento office, told me that prototypes with the owner-identification technology are currently very expensive. However, she said, manufacturers have offered assurances that these costs will go down with time and be “reasonable” in the future. The 18-month grace period designated in the bill is an additional measure to ensure that costs would not be too high, and therefore not impact the sale of guns in California.

Whiten also said that DeSaulnier’s office has spoken to current firearm owners who think guns with such owner-authorization technology would be “worth the price.” But it’s impossible to assume those owners speak for firearm owners in general.

And why should government play such a role in deciding when a particular technology is affordable enough to be classified as readily available? That’s the beauty of free markets — the market itself determines when technology becomes affordable for the masses as production goes up and costs go down.

Realistically speaking, the installation of a biometric scanner into the handgrip or trigger of a gun would be an additional cost for gun manufacturers and would result in overpriced firearms in California. Either that, or gun producers just wouldn’t sell guns in California anymore.

Unintended consequences could be grim

But if they are broadly sold in California under DeSaulnier’s rules, consider the following hypothetical situations.

I am a law-abiding citizen who owns a gun with owner-authorized technology.

If I was away while my roommate was at home, and someone were to break in, my roommate would not have the capacity to defend herself with my gun because it would not register her and not fire.

Or perhaps I was at home when the assailant invaded, but my palms were sweaty from nervousness due to the break-in. The gun does not recognize my handprint and doesn’t go off.

What if I’m wearing gloves? What if the power runs out on the biometric scanner and the technology malfunctions? Will members of law enforcement have to adhere to the same standards when purchasing guns? What if the technology malfunctions when police officers are in the middle of a dangerous, life-threatening situation?

Such situations are likely under the owner-authorized gun mandate, alongside many more potential problems that could occur if the technology is faulty.

A barely disguised attack on gun rights

The California Legislature has already advanced bills and resolutions on gun control, including SJR 1 and SB 140. There are many ways to make sure that guns stay out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous individuals, but mandated owner-authorized technology is not one of them. If gun producers want to make “smart guns” available to Californians, then Californians should be allowed to freely purchase both owner-authorized and non-owner-authorized firearms.

If SB 293 is passed, the right to bear arms will no longer be held by the people, but by regulators and bureaucrats in Sacramento.

But the overarching problem with SB 293 is not only the negative impact that it will have on gun sales and potential technology problems; it is the very frightening idea that the California Legislature can legislate and mandate and create regulations on things that, practically speaking, do not even exist yet.

Passing a law now on technology for the future sets a terrible precedent. It shuts down debate on how to deal with that technology and leaves it up to Sacramento regulators and bureaucrats to figure out how to implement the law in the long run.

DeSaulnier may have had the best intentions in mind when he authored this bill; trying to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill is a worthy goal.

Still, SB 293 is not the answer. Government infringing upon our rights and liberties is one thing — but government dictating what types of products we can use when they are not readily available or yet in existence is beyond bizarre.

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