Friday, January 8, 2016

Fact-checking Obama on Guns: NRA's Real Opposition to Smart Guns

President Obama and CNN's Anderson Cooper discuss guns. (CNN)
President Barack Obama had an interesting argument during his Thursday town hall on CNN as to why the National Rifle Association opposes the sale of smart guns.

According to the president, "It has not been developed primarily because it's been blocked by either the NRA, which is funded by gun manufacturers or other reasons." (Read my reporting at Newsmax about it here.)

He's right that the NRA has persuaded gun makers not to produce smart guns, which could be fired only by the weapon's proper owner. Such technology uses either a chip worn in a watch or bracelet with must be close enough to the handgun to allow firing, or by recognizing the owner's grip.

Obama makes it sound like the gun manufacturers don’t want to sell such handguns to the public and has thus gotten the NRA to somehow put a stop to it.

There are two logical inconsistencies with that statement.

First, why would someone who makes a product be opposed to expanding their market and producing new products that some consumers want? Some people who don't own handguns now might be persuaded to become customers if they felt they could buy a safer product.

Second, even if they were opposed to making smart guns, why would they need a lobbying group to halt their own production of such a product. If they don't want to manufacture smart guns, they simply don't have to.

But if you parse Obama's words carefully, you'll notice he ended that sentence with "or other reasons."

He's right about that. And here is the other reason:

Back in 2002, New Jersey passed the Childproof Handgun Law, which aimed to decrease the number of children accidentally getting their hands on a gun and firing it – a noble goal.

But the law says that within three years of any gun shop owner in the United States beginning sale of a smart gun, every new handgun sold in New Jersey must be a smart gun.

Gun shop owners don't like this because it limits customer choice. It's like if New Jersey had said that once any candy store in the United States began selling peanuts covered in chocolate with a hard candy coating, that's the only kind of candy that could be sold in New Jersey. As soon as Peanut M&Ms hit the market, you couldn't buy regular M&Ms – or Snickers bars or Cracker Jack.

So you could either sell smart guns in New Jersey or you could sell no handguns at all. Smaller manufacturers would be cut out while the big boys like Smith & Wesson rake in all the money. People who want regular handguns would likely drive to another state to get them if that's even legal.

And smart guns are more expensive than their regular counterparts. A person like me who has never had children and rarely has them visit might feel he is wasting money to buy a smart gun. Or maybe he's responsible enough to keep his guns locked up without having to shell out the extra bucks for a smart gun.

So, yes, the NRA does oppose smart gun sales, but only insofar as New Jersey's law would trigger lack of choice.

"We'll work with the private sector. We'll figure out whether or not this technology can be developed and then give everybody a choice in terms of the kind of firearm that they want to purchase because I think that there will, in fact, be market for that and over time," Obama said Thursday.

We've heard something like that before – something about keeping our plans and our doctors if we like them.