OBAMA REVEALS PUSH FOR ‘SMART GUNS’
President Barack Obama is renewing his push to curb gun violence, outlining on Friday his plans with law enforcement and researchers to encourage the use of so-called smart gun technology and announcing that the Social Security Administration is moving forward with a plan to put its mental health records into the background check system for gun purchases.
The moves stem from President Barack Obama’s executive actions to reduce gun violence in January, in the face of ongoing congressional resistance to new gun control legislation. At that time, he asked agencies to look into ways to overcome the financial and political hurdles that have for decades stymied research into personalized weapons that can be fired only by an authorized user.
“As long as we’ve got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun,” Obama wrote on Facebook Friday.
The specifics are based on a report from Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense. Obama had asked them in January to consider whether they should require the technology in future acquisitions of government firearms.
The steps announced Friday are more modest than that and appeared designed to win buy-in from law enforcement. They include meetings with law enforcement officials as agencies move toward a goal of devising baseline standards for safety and reliability for smart guns that might be used by police.
Researchers and entrepreneurs say government will have to take the lead on creating a market for smart guns, meaning cops might have to be the early adopters. One of the original rationales for smart guns was to save cops from being shot by their own weapons, stolen in a scuffle. But law enforcement officials, even those open to testing the nascent technology, say they’re way of anything that increases the risk that a gun won’t fire when they need it.
So the administration is taking it slowly. DOJ and DHS will work on a set of “requirements that manufacturers would need to meet for federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies to consider purchasing firearms with enhanced safety technology” to be completed in October, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote in a blog post on Friday. That effort will also identify agencies that would be willing to participate in a pilot program.
The announcement also included new research grants and money available to state and local law enforcement agencies that want to buy smart guns.
Advocates say that smart guns could be a key way to reduce accidental shootings, especially by children, as well as teen suicides (often committed with a parents’ gun), as well as crimes with stolen guns.
“As I said in January, these commonsense steps are not going to prevent every tragedy, but what if they prevented even one?” Obama wrote.
The Social Security Administration’s new proposed rule would feed information about people deemed mentally incapacitated into the federal instant background check system, blocking them from purchasing a weapon. It’s open to a 60-day comment period and sure to draw controversy; gun rights groups including the National Rifle Association were already raising the alarm about the plans in January.
“President Obama’s focus on denying disability beneficiaries their fundamental Second Amendment rights while giving criminals a free pass is embarrassing and shameful,” said Jennifer Baker, public affairs director for the NRA’s legislative arm.
Of the president’s smart gun efforts, Baker said, “At a time when we are actively fighting terrorists at home and abroad, this administration would rather focus the military’s efforts on the president’s gun control agenda.”
The White House will also host a 50-State Gun Violence Prevention Convening next month, according to Friday’s announcement, at which local leaders will gather to talk about gun violence more broadly and how to better feed records into the instant background check system.
Gun control groups praised the White House for acting where Congress has refused to, with John Feinblatt of Everytown for Gun Safety calling it an “important first step.”
Noting that so far this year, 77 unintentional child shootings have resulted in 36 deaths and 41 injuries, Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said, “Advancing smart gun technology has the potential to help reduce them. That’s an investment with returns measured in lives saved.”
But the disappointment that the administration didn’t take more aggressive steps was also clear.
“There is much more that President Obama should be doing,” said Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, co-chair of a coalition of clergy called the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign. Specifically, his group had urged the White House to use its leverage in a $580 million Army handgun contract currently being negotiated to push smart guns.
However, Mosbacher added, “These actions are real. They’re well thought-through. And we think they will send a clear signal to gun manufacturers that the largest gun purchaser in the nation — the federal government — is in the market for smarter, safer guns.”
Do Not Stand Idly By is planning to call for smart gun investment at a shareholder meeting of the gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger and Co.
Gun industry groups have maintained that they’re not against research into smart guns, but any mandate, they say, would be unacceptable.
“We are reviewing the report,” said Lawrence Keane senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “We remain concerned that the administration’s agenda is to politicize law enforcement purchasing and eventually a impose a mandate on the commercial market.”
Sarah Wheaton for Politico