Opinion: ‘Smart guns’ get not-so-smart response from gun enthusiasts

Belinda Padilla, president and CEO of Armatix USA, holds a .22 caliber iP1 "smartgun" last year at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall.
Belinda Padilla, president and CEO of Armatix USA, holds a .22 caliber iP1 “smartgun” last year at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

By now we’re all painfully aware of the ready availability of guns in American society and the parade of tragic effects that has caused. As in:

5-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Shoots, Kills Himself

Police: 6-year-old accidentally shoots woman in car, kills her


5-year-old boy shoots, kills 7-year-old girl at South Carolina birthday party

14-year-old boy charged in shooting of 9-year-old brother in Mattapan

You get the idea.

Yet gun enthusiasts even reject solutions to this bloody record of the American gun culture. The New York Times recently wrote about Beverly Hills businesswoman Belinda Padilla, who distributes the new Armatix iP1 “smartgun,” designed with an electronic trigger block. To fire a gun equipped with it, the user must also be wearing a special watch that emits an electronic signal to the gun, essentially a “permission granted to use this weapon” device (similar technology has been bubbling for years).

Such technology, if made reliable (there have been concerns about potential glitches), could greatly reduce the chances of the kinds of accidental killings listed above. Sounds reasonable? Not to the gun nuts, who reacted with over-the-top vitriol both in online forums and in personal, direct contact with Padilla. As the NYT reported:

“Belinda Padilla does not pick up unknown calls anymore, not since someone posted her cellphone number on an online forum for gun enthusiasts. A few fuming-mad voice mail messages and heavy breathers were all it took.

“Then someone snapped pictures of the address where she has a P.O. box and put those online, too. In a crude, cartoonish scrawl, this person drew an arrow to the blurred image of a woman passing through the photo frame. ‘Belinda?’ the person wrote. ‘Is that you?’ [...]


“They took to, a forum for gun owners, and called for vigilante-style investigations of Ms. Padilla and Armatix. They seized on her appearance before a United Nations panel to testify on gun safety and her purported association with a group once led by a protege of George Soros.

“ ‘I have no qualms with the idea of personally and professionally leveling the life of someone who has attempted to profit from disarming me and my fellow Americans,’ one commenter wrote.”

One of the first places that planned to make the gun available, Oak Tree Gun Club in Santa Clarita, received similar backlash after the Washington Post wrote about it. The gun club quickly changed its mind. And now a Maryland gun shop owner has dropped plans to sell the gun after “protests and death threats.”

All over a mechanism that could make guns safer.

Wired recently wrote about Omer Kiyani, a Detroit engineer, survivor of a gunshot wound and a gun owner himself, who had designed a fingerprint-recognition safety lock for guns.

“His creation is different in three ways: it’s optional, it’s detachable, and it’s quick. Unlike biometric gun safes and other locking mechanisms, Kiyani says, the Identilock makes it as easy to access a firearm as it is to unlock an iPhone. He pitched hundreds of gun owners a variety of ideas over the course of his research, but it was the biometric lock they inevitably latched onto. ‘That was the key motivator for moving forward,’ Kiyani remembers. ‘As I kept talking to people, not only did the idea get refined, but it was clear people wanted it.’

“Today, the Identilock is designed using entirely off-the-shelf components that have been proven effective in other industries. The biometric sensor, for example, has been used in other security applications and is approved by the FBI. Cobbling the sensor together from existing technologies was both a cost-saving endeavor and a strategic way to prove the product’s effectiveness more quickly. ‘If I were to go out and get one black eye, that would be it,’ Kiyani says. ‘The goal was to take something that has already been validated, not have to reinvent the wheel.’ ”


But we might have to reinvent sanity, and hope for a generous dose of luck for the developers of smart guns. We won’t get the kind of meaningful gun control laws the nation needs as long as the National Rifle Assn. and its “cold dead fingers” extremists continue to cow Congress and state legislatures. But maybe we can hope for at least some levelheaded approaches to making guns safer.