Obama orders feds to study smart gun technology

The president asks government departments for tech-based recommendations to track lost or stolen guns and to prevent accidental gunfire.

Terry Collins
Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
3 min read

President Barack Obama is flexing his executive muscle, ordering the federal government to study how smart guns could stem violence.

In a memorandum Monday, the president told the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to look into smart gun technology, such as fingerprint and radio-frequency identification. The goals are to track lost or stolen guns and to prevent accidental gunfire.

The agencies have 90 days to compile recommendations.

The Obama memo comes a month after a couple influenced by radical Islamic beliefs fatally shot 14 people in San Bernardino, California, raising concerns about public safety. Gun sales rose sharply amid fear of extremists after the December 2 shooting, the Obama administration said in a briefing over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Obama outlined the memo and other executive actions he took during a tearful speech at the White House where he implored the nation to have a "sense of urgency" to tackle gun violence. He recalled the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 children and six teachers dead.

"Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad," Obama said, wiping away tears. "And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."

Besides encouraging gun safety technology, Obama's initiatives also include expanding background checks during gun sales to beefing up enforcement of existing gun laws. This is part of an effort to close the so-called "gun show loophole" that allows gun dealers conducting business at gun shows or online without conducting background checks. Current laws exempts gun collectors and hobbyists from conducting background checks before selling a firearm.

Obama further plans to address gun violence during a nationally televised town hall meeting at George Mason University in Virginia on Thursday night. On Monday, the president consulted with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on which executive orders he could use for more gun restrictions.

"Developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority," Obama said in his memo.

Obama's push for smart technology will likely run into resistance from gun rights groups, which have long said smart technology is a way for the federal government to track firearms.

That, they say, could ultimately lead to a ban on weapons.

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement Tuesday that Obama has chosen once again to engage in political rhetoric instead of offering meaningful solutions. He said the NRA would not allow "law-abiding gun owners to become scapegoats for President Obama's failed policies."

"The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts," Cox said. "The NRA will continue to fight to protect the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed under our Constitution."

The president cited a 2013 Department of Justice report that reviewed the most effective use of gun safety technologies, including a requirement to scan for the owner's fingerprint before a gun could discharge.

"In its report, the (DOJ) made clear that technological advancement in this area could help reduce accidental deaths and the use of stolen guns in criminal activities," he said.

Obama said the recommendations are within his legal authority, consistent with the Second Amendment and supported by the "overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners."

Updated at 12:35 p.m. PT with comments from Obama and the National Rifle Association.