Why Smart Guns Are Failing to Gain Traction in America

Maryland gun store co-owner Andy Raymond recently scrapped his plan to sell "smart guns" at his store, Engage Armament, after receiving hundreds of protests and several death threats. Raymond originally intended to sell Armatix's iP1, a .22-caliber handgun that only fires when in a 10-inch radio frequency range from a paired watch.

This is the second time a gun store has reversed its stance on smart guns -- the first being a California store that backtracked earlier this year after being hit by a similar backlash.

Armatrix's iP1. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Smart guns by the numbers
President Obama has touted the adoption of smart guns as part of his 23-point plan to reduce gun violence after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.

On the surface, smart guns seem like an ideal middle ground between gun rights and gun control advocates. It could counter the theft of 232,000 guns per year reported by the Bureau of Justice, since a smart gun is useless without a paired watch or implantable chip.

Moreover, smart guns could decrease accidental shootings at home, since a federal study claims that an average of 8% of all unintentional shooting deaths in the U.S. resulted in shots fired by children under six years of age. Last October, an NBC report revealed that nearly 7,500 children and teens were hospitalized every year in the U.S. from gunshot wounds, resulting in approximately 500 deaths. That problem could worsen, since 39% of American households owned guns at the end of 2013 -- a 5% increase from 2012.

Unfortunately, the reality of smart guns is far more complicated than those simple percentages and statistics.

Regulators are antagonizing gun owners
Much of the controversy surrounding smart guns stems from a 2002 New Jersey law stipulating that once smart guns go on sale anywhere in the country, all New Jersey gun stores must shift from sales of traditional guns to smart guns within three years. The change wouldn't affect guns that people already own.

New Jersey's law seems to needlessly antagonize gun owners and actually discourage the adoption of smart guns anywhere across America. As a result, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg recently stated in an MSNBC interview that she would consider reversing the law if gun rights groups like the NRA (National Rifle Association) agreed to not stand in the way of smart gun technology.

However, that might be easier said than done. Back in 1997, Ronald Stewart, the CEO of firearm manufacturer Colt's, called upon his industry peers to support the development of smart guns. Stewart's views prompted the Coalition of New Jersey Sportsmen -- a state affiliate of the NRA -- to call for a boycott of Colt's. The following year, Stewart was replaced as the company's CEO, and the company completely abandoned the smart gun market.

A matter of life and death
Another key hurdle for smart gun manufacturers to overcome is the notion that smart guns are not as reliable as traditional firearms due to their electronic components.

Since a smart gun relies on radio frequencies to function, it could theoretically be jammed like cell phones and walkie-talkies. Both the gun and watch run on batteries, which could die in the middle of combat. This makes it nearly impossible for police officers and soldiers, who constantly work in life-or-death situations, to ever trust such a device. Therefore, a traditional gun with a regular safety seems like a much simpler and safer alternative to smart guns.

At the same time, gun control advocates believe that smart guns could create a false sense of safety and actually boost sales of firearms across America.

A matter of cost
Last but not least, smart guns are expensive. The Armatix iP1 costs $1,399 while the accompanying watch costs $399. That's several times the cost of a Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ: SWHC  ) handgun, which costs $400 to $500. That steep price tag has caused demand for smart guns to remain fairly low, although the technology has been available for well over a decade.

If smart gun manufacturers ever want to make an impact on the U.S. market, they must address concerns about possible failures and the cost effectiveness of the device. One manufacturer, Kodiak, is taking a different route -- instead of selling an entire smart gun and a watch, it sells a biometric grip that can be attached to 1911 model firearms. The grip, known as the Intelligun, locks the gun with a fingerprint scanner for $399 -- a substantially cheaper solution than Armatrix's iP1.

Kodiak's Intelligun. Source: Company website.

Locking accessories like the Intelligun could be introduced as optional add-ons for existing firearms without replacing traditional firearms altogether. Taking that subtle approach would be smarter than forcing gun stores to carry expensive smart guns like the Armatrix iP1, since it leaves the choice to the owner.

Can smart guns and accessories stabilize the gun market?
One could also argue that the only two publicly traded gun manufacturers in the U.S. -- Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger, and Company (NYSE: RGR  ) -- won't ever need smart guns to boost their businesses.

Last quarter, Smith & Wesson's revenue climbed 7.1% year-over-year last year as sales of handguns soared 29.9%. Sturm, Ruger, and Company's revenue rose 28.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013. Shares of Smith & Wesson are up 82% over the past 12 months, while Ruger has rallied 33%.

Yet introducing optional smart gun options such as biometric grips could decrease volatility in the stock in times of crisis such as tragic shootings or aggressive legislation. In the week following the Sandy Hook tragedy, for example, shares of Smith & Wesson plunged 11% while shares of Ruger slipped 4%.

No easy answer
In conclusion, there's no easy answer to gun control in America. According to Gallup, 37% of Americans support maintaining the status quo on gun laws while 49% support stricter laws regarding sales. However, 75% believed that the government should never pass a law that bans the possession of all handguns except for the police and authorized people.

Smart guns would be a wise first step, but they must be presented as optional purchases rather than required ones free from the interference of the U.S. government and the NRA. Prices must be lowered, mechanisms must be made less complex, and devices must be proven to be just as reliable as traditional firearms before they can ever gain traction in the market.

Top dividend stocks for the next decade
The smartest investors know that dividend stocks simply crush their non-dividend paying counterparts over the long term. That's beyond dispute. They also know that a well-constructed dividend portfolio creates wealth steadily, while still allowing you to sleep like a baby. Knowing how valuable such a portfolio might be, our top analysts put together a report on a group of high-yielding stocks that should be in any income investor's portfolio. To see our free report on these stocks, just click here now.

Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 3:26 PM, GWC1584 wrote:

    Is smart gun technology really so wonderful? It must not be so. In the state of New Jersey, laws were passed requiring smart gun technology to be implemented three years after successful tech.

    The police are exempt from having to make the change-over.

    If the technology is not good enough for the police, should it be good enough for the legal firearms owners? I think not.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 4:19 PM, ITrollLibtards wrote:

    It's failing because anyone with half a brain knows that this won't stop crime. First, there are MILLIONS of old guns out there. Second, it'll be a matter of days before criminals create a band that will work with any gun.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 4:49 PM, fansnotes wrote:

    As a gun owner (and one-time NRA member), I'd welcome the opportunity to add "smart" technology to some (or all, if cost were low enough) of my guns. The technology would likely foil thieves, while adding a modicum of safety to possessing firearms that are not kept in a locked safe - as virtually all of mine are, for safety's sake.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 7:40 PM, grimme wrote:

    What makes you think this will stop thefts ? You simply can remove the grips in the 1911 or steal the watch along with the gun. What happens when the battery fails the one time you need the gun to save your life ? Souns likw a very expensive paper weightr

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 7:45 PM, catfish86 wrote:

    Check your facts, the May 5 edition of the Gallup Poll finds that 31% want stricter laws recovering from a temporary bump following a very concentrated media effort cooperating with the Obama Administration, as you seem to be doing by picking last years polls.

    As for stubborn by both sides, if you count want a reliable firearm that will fire when needed, then count me stubborn. If Obama thinks its such a good idea, then have his Secret Service protection detail be the first to use it.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 8:25 PM, MTCWBY wrote:

    I'm in tech and the idea of adding electronic complexity to a reliable mechanical device is asinine. There's a reason that no cop or soldier would adopt these things.

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 8:59 PM, gentlemanjim wrote:

    I'll give you the biggest reason why people shouldn't want these so-called smart guns. If they're controlled by a computer chip, what's to stop the gubment from inactivating all of the guns at will?

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2014, at 10:23 PM, lcr1946 wrote:

    The level of screaming paranoia has ratcheted up a notch. Smart guns for stupid people.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 6:37 AM, jak74 wrote:

    First of all comparing police and soldiers to armed civilians is kind of silly, your comparing apples and oranges, police/soldiers have extensive training in how to operate and use weapons, civilians have no required training at all, you simply have to be of age and you can own a deadly weapon, we don't even give out drivers license's without a class and a test so I find it pretty funny that as a country were so ignorant in this manner. Secondly as a gun owner myself this tech doesn't really interest me either, I have never worn a watch per say and strapping some piece of plastic around my wrist seems silly as well, but in the interest of safety I would be open to certain tech idea's, this is where I find America pretty sad, no matter what we find a reason to ignore common sense solutions with uncommon rationale, I bet out of the millions of anti-gun control posts we see everyday less than 1% of these people live or have to deal with a violent issue that they need access to a firearm 24/7, this country has become paranoid, even these school shootings fail in comparison when you compare the statistics to accidental firearm death in this country, its time to start using our heads and stop living in fear, the government is not coming to take your weapons and for 99.9% of Americans you will never need a firearm to protect yourself.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 6:54 AM, rongreenberg7 wrote:

    The visceral reaction of gun owners to any attempts at controlling guns, even their safety, is a clear measure that the dark ages were a more appropriate time for this testosterone gang.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 10:19 AM, Dienekes wrote:

    Overpriced, overrated, unproven for reliability, possibly controllable by outside technology, and surely hackable. You can buy it if you want, but it should not be forced on firearms owners who know better.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 10:41 AM, PseudoCool wrote:

    I think what's needed here is a bit of education:

    First off, this is a idea that has stupid written all over it in epic sized letters and proportions. And I'll explain why:

    Electronic devices can be jammed. The US Government (as well as many others) have had the ability to do so for more than 40 years, back with the inception and deployment of the EA-6B Prowler jet, which is capable of jamming everything from an ECM pod mounted on the tail wing of the craft. This pod is easily transferred to any of our common day drones. That being said, do I think the government would use such.. well.. I'd hope not, but who's to say.

    Secondly, there is this nifty thing out there called an EMP bomb. EMP - ElectroMagnetic Pulse. These devices are EASY to construct, and any terrorist or local government agency, or heck, thug with a desire to, can research how to build and operate these on the internet. These devices, when deployed, would instantly make any smart gun, or even smart safe, technology virtually useless. What's even worse, you can build one in your house with things you can get at the local hardware store.

    Thirdly - cost. Even with the grip biometrics, your adding cost to a gun, which most shooters I know (myself included) don't want. Guns and ammunition are already expensive enough. Even moreso, with an unproven and unreliable system like this, who's going to want to pay for it? The pro's and con's don't even out for the cost comparison here.

    Lastly.. what's really needed is gun EDUCATION. I had my education in guns long before I went into the military. That was done through an NRA safety course that used to be held in grade school (mine was in 4th grade), then again before I could hunt by the state of Michigans Hunter Safety Program, which also covered hand guns. While the hunters safety course is still a requirement for young people, the NRA course is no longer in service due to lack of participating educational systems. The NRA gave this course for FREE, and to my knowledge, there is no replacement being offered anywhere. This has become the fundamental problem.. gun safety and gun ownership.

    When I'm at the local gun shop, and someone comes in and admits they are buying a weapon for someone else.. and the shop does EVERYTHING it is required to do, including calling authorities to make the arrest (as straw purchases of handguns IS currently illegal).. and the police don't show up for HOURS, if at all, then that means we've got a breakdown in enforcing the laws already in place. We should start with that before making new laws or forcing new unproven technology on citizens of this country. There's more here at stake than just "protecting the childern".. wish people would see that.

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 5:15 PM, rhines81 wrote:

    What type of firearms are the secret service carrying to protect Oblama's life?? Smart guns? I think not!

  • Report this Comment On May 07, 2014, at 12:08 PM, SmartRobert1954 wrote:

    Some comments on statements made in the article: First, the incidence of accidental shootings of children has steadily decreased over the last 20 years, to an infinitesimally low current level, even as ownership has increased. The numbers are inflated by anti-gunners by including gang and drug shootings in the mix. Second, smart gun technology has been in the works for over 25 years, but reliability has never come up to the level to make them desirable to those whose lives may depend on the weapon working EVERY time. Third, there is a movement among anti-gun groups to try to declare any gun without certain safety features (such as a magazine safety, which is the current argument being put forward) as defective, which would then open the door for them to be confiscated as unsafe. THAT is one of the major reasons why this idea is being fought by the NRA and those who believe in our gun rights. Fourth, NBC has a poor record of accurate reporting, and in the words of Judge Judy, "You lie to me once, I won't believe anything you say."

  • Report this Comment On May 07, 2014, at 4:03 PM, jehelms1223 wrote:

    I don't think people are worried about whether the owner fires the gun or not--its who knows your carrying the handgun and who is tracking you while carrying it riding down the road etc.--people want privacy with their firearms.

  • Report this Comment On May 08, 2014, at 3:33 PM, thiagorulez wrote:

    So this genius product is being inhibited by New Jersey? That's a bummer. For now I suppose a classic gun safe will do fine, but I'd really like to see this happen in the U.S. Thiago |

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2942828, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/29/2015 10:47:36 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Leo Sun

Leo has covered the crossroads of Wall Street and Silicon Valley since 2012. Follow him on Twitter for more updates!

Today's Market

updated 13 hours ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,643.01 -11.76 -0.07%
S&P 500 1,988.87 1.21 0.06%
NASD 4,828.33 15.62 0.32%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

8/28/2015 4:02 PM
RGR $61.69 Up +3.69 +6.36%
Sturm, Ruger & Com… CAPS Rating: ***
SWHC $18.03 Up +1.81 +11.16%
Smith & Wesson Hol… CAPS Rating: ***