One of California's largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.
The watch's primary purpose is not to provide accurate time, though it does. Electronic chips inside the gun and watch communicate with each other. If the watch is within close reach of the gun, a light on the grip turns green. Fire away. No watch means no green light. The gun becomes a paperweight.
A dream of gun-control advocates for decades, the Armatix iP1 is being billed as the country's first smart gun. Its introduction is seen as a landmark event in efforts to reduce gun violence, suicides and accidental shootings. Proponents compare smart guns to automobile air bags — a transformative add-on that gun owners will demand. Gun-rights advocates are already balking, wondering what happens if the technology fails just as an intruder breaks in.
James Mitchell, the "extremely pro-gun" owner of the Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall, Calif., isn't one of the skeptics. His club's firearms shop is the only outlet in the country selling the iP1. "It could revolutionize the gun industry," Mitchell declared.
The German company Armatix makes the expensive iP1. The .22-caliber pistol costs $1,399 — plus $399 for the watch. A .40-caliber Glock handgun is about $600.
A concern for potential buyers is reliability, with 44 percent of those polled by the National Shooting Sports Foundation saying the technology would not be reliable. A commenter in an online Glock forum explained: "They can't even make a cellphone that works reliably when you need it, and some dumb (expletive) thinks he can make a reliable techno-gadget gun that is supposed to safeguard you in dire circumstances?"