Smart gun company loses founder as N.J. considers scrapping mandate

Smart gun developer Ernst Mauch is out at Armatix while smart gun law author Sen. Loretta Weinberg is in talks to repeal her 2002 New Jersey law that mandates them. (Photo: Composite of images from Washington Post and The Star-Ledger)

Smart gun developer Ernst Mauch is out at Armatix while smart gun law author Sen. Loretta Weinberg is in talks to repeal her 2002 New Jersey law that mandates them. (Photo: Composite of images from Washington Post and The Star-Ledger)

In a setback for smart gun advocates, German firm Armatix has offloaded its long-time president while New Jersey lawmakers mull over repealing a controversial law mandating their use.

Confirmed gone from Armatix, the first company to attempt to market a personalized handgun in the nation is Ernst Mauch, the engineer who helped found the thus-far unsuccessful venture. While Mauch’s separation from the company comes among allegations of a forced ouster following a mounting 14 million euro ($16 million) debt in the past week, neither Armatix nor Mauch are elaborating officially on the reasons behind the decision to part ways.

“I am a man making no compromises,” Mauch told the Washington Post from his home in Germany. “I want to walk through my life with a straight and honest backbone.”

The small, 30-employee company at first tried to sell European police and militaries on their firearms, which incorporate biometrics that will only allow the weapon to fire if the matched RFID technology companion wristwatch is within range of the gun itself. Without the watch, the gun will not shoot.

Then in 2013, Armatix tried its entry into the U.S. firearms market and obtained a Type 8 federal firearms license, issued to importers of firearms other than destructive devices. With that set to expire in May 2016, the company, which currently has 5,000 unsold .22-caliber iP1 personalized handguns in storage, has yet to successfully sell a gun in the country.

This is largely due to a swift backlash on planned retailers in California and Maryland who attempted to sell the $1,800 rimfire pistol without success.

In their opposition to any sales of the iP1 – or any other smart gun for that matter – gun rights advocates invoked the technology’s sword of Damocles, a dormant New Jersey law that would require all guns sold in the Garden State be equipped with smart-gun capabilities within three years of the technology becoming practical.

While the New Jersey Attorney General’s office recently decided the Armatix iP1 does not meet the state’s personalized handgun law passed in 2002, following a lawsuit to trigger it brought about by gun control advocates who claimed it did, lawmakers in that state are now looking hard at repealing the measure.

“The legislation from a decade ago was designed to stimulate technology. It worked,” state Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, told NJ.com. “But if that legislation is now having the effect of restricting access to that consumer product, it needs to be reexamined. Because the most important thing is giving consumers the ability to decide if they want that access to that technology.”

As such, Greenwald has contacted the legislation’s original sponsor, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg in an effort to scrap it. Last summer, Weinberg publicly advised that she would seek to rescind the bill so long as gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association make concessions that she saw as a roadblock to the development of the technology.

In place of the current law, which threatens gun dealers with forced compliance, Greenwald envisions voluntary economic incentives such as tax credits to take its place.

“In Maryland, there were death threats,” Greenwald said. “That’s not serving anyone. If this is a product people choose not to have, the market will decide.”

Firearms industry trade group the National Shooting Sports Foundation spoke to Guns.com previously about the New Jersey dilemma.

“It only took Sen. Weinberg and her anti-gun colleagues a dozen years to understand what we told them when they voted for the law, namely that there is no safe and reliable product available, which is still true,” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the NSSF.

Keane, however, made sure to point out the industry is not against advances in technology but rather the politics that would make its use arbitrary.

“Manufacturers should be free to sell to consumers the products that meet their needs, and they want to purchase. If there is consumer demand for such a product the market will work. The state of New Jersey has no business making that choice for its citizens,” Keane said. “The Second Amendment doesn’t say citizens have the ‘right to keep and bear only the arms the state government says they will be permitted to buy.’”

For Armatix, who are preparing a 9mm version of its gun in hopes of sales to law enforcement, the company is still slated to tour the country this summer in concert with the Washington D.C.-based Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, which has long advocated smart gun technology as part of a campaign to prevent gun violence. Meanwhile, states such as California are proposing new standards for user-authorized firearms.