RESPONSE TO LAWRENCE KEANE’S TAKE ON SMART GUNS
Lawrence G. Keane is supposed to represent the gun manufacturers and retailers who pay his salary. With his wildly inaccurate attack on us and our network of citizens’ organizations (‘Smart Gun’ technology can’t be forced on law enforcement or public,” Conn. Post, Feb. 20, 2018) he does his patrons a disservice; he misses a rare chance to find common ground with Americans who stand outside of the gun industry’s ever-narrowing circle of wagons.
True, we disagree with Keane and his industry on fundamental questions. We believe they should prioritize safety over killing power. We’ve pushed its leaders to establish quality control in their distribution networks, cutting off dealers that feed illegal gun trafficking pipelines into our cities. And just days ago, we wrote to his organization, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and asked them to lead an effort to pull bump stocks from the U.S. market.
On user-authenticating (or “smart”) guns — the subject of Keane’s diatribe — we thought things might be different. We told him in writing in 2015 that we agreed with NSSF that New Jersey’s smart-gun mandate law had been counterproductive. We asked to meet to explore common ground. Keane declined, as his organization has now done on numerous occasions.
Too bad. We could have told them that neither we nor anyone else we know of recommends that police be used as “guinea pigs” to test “experimental” weapons in the field. What we do recommend is that innovators in the smart-gun field meet with law enforcement firearms experts, that police officers methodically test out and evaluate smart guns for potential police use, and that they make their own judgments about these products rather than depending on paid gun industry lobbyists for information.
We launched this exploratory work in 2015 with the first-ever smart gun show, where more than 50 police officers gathered in the New Rochelle, N.Y. police headquarters and were able to see and shoot smart guns for the first time. We were disappointed that NSSF declined our invitation to participate.
Keane calls our approach of encouraging law enforcement interest in these technologies an “artificial” intervention in the market. In fact it’s normal market behavior. Who decreed that police departments must buy Glocks and SIG Sauer guns for eternity? Why wouldn’t they want to investigate new products with the potential to protect officers from gun grabs and to protect their children and families from unauthorized use of their service weapons?
What is “artificial” is the behavior of gun-rights extremists who have used intimidation to keep smart guns out of the hands of buyers. In 2014, two gun dealers — one in Maryland, one in California — announced plans to offer the nation’s first smart-gun model for sale in their stores. Within days, both dealers had changed their minds after being terrorized by smart-gun opponents who threatened them with economic and physical harm. To this date, no U.S. gun dealer has sold a smart gun.
Keane and the NSSF did nothing to restrain or condemn this thuggish interference with the market. Instead, he described it this way to The New York Times: “The market reacted.”
Threats of violence are the opposite of market behavior. Choosing not to buy a smart gun would be a market reaction. Threatening to kill a smart-gun dealer and his dog is something else.
NSSF, as far as we can tell, has done nothing to protect Americans from bump stocks — or any other lethal technology. Bump stocks are the lethal technology that facilitated the murder of 58 people and the wounding of 851 others by a single gunman last October in Las Vegas.
We know of no instance, ever, where NSSF has acted to restrain the escalating arms race through which gun manufacturers seek to outfit gun owners with greater firepower than the police. Hollow-point bullets, 50-round magazines, silencers (now rebranded as “suppressors”), bump stocks — has NSSF ever seen an innovation to boost killing power that it didn’t like?
So our Do Not Stand Idly By campaign has pursued a market approach to smart guns and curbing illegal guns with zero help from the NSSF. It was our fellow leaders in New Jersey who persuaded state legislators to initiate repeal of that state’s mandate law. We want market forces to work: to deliver badly needed capital to innovators with promising smart-gun designs and other safety technologies so these products can get to market and succeed or fail on their merits.
We remain ready to talk, Mr. Keane. We won’t agree on everything. But we could have a productive discussion on what a truly market-based approach to smart guns would look like. Your patrons — including Remington, American Outdoor Brands, Sturm Ruger & Co. and other companies fixated on selling AR-15’s — should join the race to develop the most reliable, affordable, user-authenticating gun. They would find customers waiting for them — civilian and law enforcement alike.
Rev. Bennett and Rabbi Friedman are leaders in Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT) and Metro IAF. Both have been active in the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign for several years.