Opponents and the author of New Jersey’s controversial 13-year-old smart gun law, widely blamed for holding up the development of weapons that can only be fired by their owners, agreed on one thing Monday: The law needs to be scrapped.
But while state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) has a new bill to replace it with an edict that retailers stock at least one smart gun model — which cleared a key Senate committee on Monday — gun advocates argued that repealing the law entirely would spark interest in the weapon’s technology.
“Our message is simple: If you want this technology to develop, take the mandates out,” Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol clubs told the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “Take government hands off the process and let the technology develop naturally. Let’s see if there’s a market.”
Weinberg’s 2002 law required New Jersey firearms dealers to sell only smart guns three years after they’re available on the market. The aim of the law was to stem accidental shootings and “child proof” the weapons.
But it had unintended consequences, and while the state law boosted investment in developing smart gun technology, the guns are still not available anywhere in the country.
Weinberg said gun rights activists have intimidated gun shop owners from selling smart guns in fear of starting the three-year countdown.
Dismayed that the law was used “from the East Coast to the West Coast by certain parts of the gun advocacy community … to lobby against the research, development, manufacture or sale of such handgun,” Weinberg said, her new bill (S3249) would require that dealers carry at least one smart gun in their inventory three years after they’re on the market.
But this bill has also drawn the ire of gun rights advocates who don’t want government mandates on them or unreliable, personalized guns forced into the market.
Weinberg said her one-model-per-gun shop mandated is designed to protect retailers who want to sell the weapons from backlash. She issued a challenge to the National Rifle Association to get out of the way of the development of smart gun technology, and in return she would rescind the 2002 law, but said she was met with silence.
“All I asked was for leadership of the pro-gun industry to stand up and say we will not encourage our members to stand in the way of research, development, retail sales and manufacture of such guns,” she said, prompting a testy exchange with Bach, who asked her to pledge she would never attempt to ban firearms.
“I feel like they can’t take yes for an answer,” Weinberg continued.
Bach said Second Amendment advocates don’t trust that lawmakers aren’t seeking to resurrect the original mandate once smart guns hit the shelves.
“We’re not interfering with the development of the technology,” Bach said. “Basically, the technology has been tainted by your mandate.”
Bach disputed that smart gun technology, which can include biometrics or sensors that require the user to be within a certain proximity of the weapon, is ready to be rolled out. Lawmakers should let the technology and the marketplace develop organically, without government interference, he added.
But this kind of government intervention is nothing new, Weinberg countered, noting that government dictates what drugs pharmacies have to carry and what policies insurance companies have to sell.