California gun store bails on 'smart gun' after complaints

March 7, 2014

In a sharp reversal, a California gun store has backed away from selling the country's first so-called "smart gun" after shooters criticized the shop for helping gun-control groups take away their firearms.

In a recent report, the Washington Post says that Newell, Calif.-based Oak Tree Gun Club pulled the Armatix iP1 pistol from its shelves after customers and other firearms owners wrote scathing reviews of the Southern California gun store and range, saying Oak Tree was "in bed" with Armatix and is trying to take away Californians' guns.

"Should not have allowed a company developing anti-American technology to use the facility to test their smart guns," wrote one reader on the Oak Tree's Facebook page. "If you believe in America, the constitution and the second amendment, do business anywhere else."

The anger stems from a proposed California law that says smart guns must replace all handgun sales in the state when the technology is made commercially available to shooters. There is a similar law already on the books in New Jersey, and last month Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey introduced a bill that would mandate all pistol sales in the U.S. be smart guns within two years.

The German-made Armatix iP1is a .22 caliber handgun that can only be fired if the shooter is wearing a special watch that transmits a signal to a chip in the gun to unlock it.

The company says the technology makes guns safer by rendering the pistol inert for all but authorized users, cutting down on accidental shootings, suicides and theft. But critics say smart guns aren't reliable, and that forcing gun owners to buy only smart guns could prove deadly.

And most of all, shooters are worried that the sale of the gun will trigger mandates to replace all pistols with smart guns in some states.

"NRA does not oppose new technological developments in firearms; however, we are opposed to government mandates that require the use of expensive, unreliable features, such as grips that would read your fingerprints before the gun will fire," the gun rights group says. "And NRA recognizes that the 'smart guns' issue clearly has the potential to mesh with the anti-gunner's agenda, opening the door to a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology."

According to the Post story, Armatix set up shop at Oak Tree to introduce its pistol to the U.S. market after a tepid response to the technology in Europe. The gun store began selling the almost $2,000 pistol last month, but pulled it from the shelves within days, painting over Armatix signage and other smart gun advertising after facing the furious backlash.

The shop initially denied it was selling the iP1 after customers complained, but the Post quoted Oak Tree owner James Mitchell as saying he'd worked with Armatix "for about a year" to get the gun introduced to shops in California.

"I know the people that own the company, so we're a logical place for them to start, because California is a very restrictive state and we're one of the biggest dealers in the state," Mitchell told The Post last month. "I walk in a delicate line because I am an extremely pro-gun conservative type person. But I'm also logical, you know."

A scientific poll commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in October showed more than 80 percent of respondents either would not or were unlikely to purchase a smart gun.