Can established gunmakers help smart guns in uphill push? (VIDEO)

It was a moment of great national pride for some when news broke more than four years ago that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, had been killed by American special forces.

Though he doesn’t like to take credit for it, German gunmaker Ernst Mauch designed the HK416 rifle a Navy SEAL reportedly used to take down the Saudi terrorist. Mauch spent some 30 years at Heckler & Koch, where he conceived the M4 carbine, an improvement on the previous Colt model, for the U.S. military.

“I didn’t design it specifically to kill Osama bin Laden, so I can’t take credit for that,” Mauch said modestly during an escalator ride in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel earlier this week.

Mauch joined fellow gunmaker Jonathan Mossberg and others at an annual smart gun symposium hosted by Washington Ceasefire and the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation to discuss advancement of the technology seeking to personalize gun ownership.

An American, Mossberg is a third generation gun maker. His company, iGun Technology Corp, has been building a smart shotgun since 1999. The long gun is paired with a ring to enable only authorized users to fire its cartridges.    

Mauch was recently caught in the middle of a firestorm of protest from the gun rights community after designing a gun which used radio frequency to prevent unauthorized use. The iP1 pairs with a watch and deactivates when the two are separated.

Though the gun was ready for sale, political and social pressure caused Los Angeles’ Oak Tree Gun Club to reverse its decision to carry the firearm and it disavowed any knowledge of the iP1 or Armatix, the company where Mauch spent nine years as an engineer, before departing on less than good terms last year. Mauch declined to comment on his separation from Armatix, but the reason reportedly was because of a disagreement.

The political fervor over the iP1 itself was likely caused by a 2002 New Jersey law, mandating the exclusive sale of smart guns should one that meets the state’s definition of a “personalized gun” be sold anywhere else in the country. Worry spread through the gun rights community that the iP1 would trigger the New Jersey mandate, sending a ripple effect of legislation across the country.

State Attorney General John Jay Hoffman in November 2014 temporarily put that fear to rest by declaring the iP1 didn’t meet the statutory definition because the smart gun could be fired by an unauthorized user in several scenarios.

Legislation has since been introduced and passed in the state Senate softening the mandate to require at least one smart gun be carried by all dealers in New Jersey once a model has been sold in the U.S. The National Rifle Association and gun industry representative the National Shooting Sports Foundation says the rollback bill doesn’t go far enough and the mandate law should be repealed.

Johns Hopkins University professor Stephen Teret co-wrote the bill. He declined to comment on a point raised by the gun groups that the mandate could prove financially burdensome to many small businesses, but said he did recognize the concern. It’s an issue raised by students participating in clinics with a focus on writing legislation to mandate smart gun implementation.  

Considered the godmother of the New Jersey mandate, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg doubled down on her support of the new bill, which she was the primary sponsor of. When asked if she thought provisions were needed to ensure small gun dealers be protected from the financial burden carrying an unsold smart gun could prove – smart gun manufacturers or taxpayers subsidizing the cost — she told Guns.com “no.”

The naysayers have done everything possible to halt the research and marketplace for this technology,” Weinberg said in a Facebook message. “Let’s get it developed and to the market and we will then be able to evaluate anything else that needs to change.”

The iP1, a .22-caliber, cost $1,800 retail, a fact that has alone caused many to scoff at the smart technology’s incorporation into “dumb guns.”

Though Mossberg has been working on smart guns since well before many others and has since joined an effort staunch conservative gun rights advocates consider contrary to their core beliefs, the gun manufacturer feels vindicated in his quest to get his shotguns mass produced for the U.S. market. He said he would need approximately $5 million to do so and is actively seeking funding. 

Mossberg told Guns.com he also wants to see the New Jersey mandate go away.

“As a businessman, wouldn’t you love your product mandated? Regardless of the financial gain to me, I am dead set against that. I don’t want any mandate at all. Basically, government, don’t help me, don’t hurt me, get out of my way and let the public choose what they want to have.”