March 7, 2014

By Michael S. Rosenwald

The California gun store that put the nation’s first smart gun on sale is facing a furious backlash from customers and gun rights advocates who fear the new technology will encroach on their Second Amendment rights if it becomes mandated.

Attacks in online forums and social networks against the Oak Tree Gun Club have prompted the store to back away from any association with the Armatix iP1 smart gun. The protests threaten the nascent smart gun industry, which received a jolt of support recently when a group of Silicon Valley investors offered a $1 million prize for promising new technology.

Not long ago smart guns, personalized weapons that only fired for authorized users, were seen only in the movies. Today, after millions of dollars and more than 10 years of research, there are finally smart guns for the public. But there are only two viable systems available for the public to purchase. The Washington Post's Mike Rosenwald talks about the reason why and the future of the technology.
Not long ago smart guns, personalized weapons that only fired for authorized users, were seen only in the movies. Today, after millions of dollars and more than 10 years of research, there are finally smart guns for the public. But there are only two viable systems available for the public to purchase. The Washington Post's Mike Rosenwald talks about the reason why and the future of the technology.
Firearms manufacturers use digital technology to make guns safer. Click Here to View Full Graphic Story
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The vitriol began almost immediately after The Washington Post reported last month that the Armatix iP1 smart gun was for sale at the pro shop. Electronic chips inside the gun communicate with a watch that can be purchased with the gun, making it impossible to fire without the watch. Gun control advocates, who believe smart guns could reduce gun violence, suicides and accidental shootings, marked the moment as a milestone.

“These people are anti-gunners,” someone said of Oak Tree on the store’s Facebook page, adding, “I will never step foot in this dump.” On Yelp, a user wrote, “If you care about the ability to exercise your [Second Amendment] rights, I would suggest that you do not continue to frequent this place.”

The protests are fueled by worry that being able to purchase the iP1 will trigger a New Jersey law mandating that all handguns in the state be personalized within three years of a smart gun going on sale anywhere in the United States. Similar mandates have been introduced in California and in both chambers of Congress.

Oak Tree, which is located outside of Los Angeles, owes New Jersey an apology, a Facebook poster wrote.

The opposition has apparently shaken Oak Tree, one of the largest gun stores and shooting ranges in California.

Gun rights advocates and Armatix executives have been mystified by the store’s response, which has been to deny ever offering the gun and apologizing for any confusion in several places online, including to a gun rights advocate at

The denials come despite Oak Tree owner James Mitchell’s extensive comments about why the gun was put on sale there. Armatix executives also provided The Post with two photos of the gun for sale in a gun cabinet at the facility, as well as multiple photos of customers shooting the iP1 at an event in a specially designed firing range with large Armatix signs.

Saying that “we’ve been helping the company get the gun introduced here out West,” Mitchell told The Post earlier this month: “I walk in a delicate line because I am an extremely pro-gun conservative type person. But I’m also logical, you know.” He said the technology, if accepted, could “revolutionize the gun industry” and provide a compromise between gun rights advocates and gun control supporters.

Mitchell has apparently discovered that gun rights advocates have little appetite for smart-gun technology.

The protests echo what Smith & Wesson endured after it signed a landmark gun control agreement with the Clinton administration in 2000 that called for the company to research and introduce smart guns. Boycotts of the company’s products nearly put it out of business.

“The minute you touch guns, you are going to get a huge response from the gun lobby,” said John Rosenthal, the founder of Stop Handgun Violence, a Boston area organization advocating for smart guns. “The concern of the gun industry is that if you personalize guns, then you are going to put a regulation on an industry that has none.”

Oak Tree executives did not respond to numerous requests for comments about the backlash and why they were now denying carrying the gun. Reached by phone, Mitchell said, “Not taking any phone calls. Thanks.” Then he hung up.

Belinda Padilla, president of Armatix’s U.S. operation, described a “mind-blowing” set of events following The Post’s original story. At first, she said Oak Tree officials, who lease her an office at the facility, were “ecstatic” with the coverage, telling her they needed more guns in the store because a TV news crew was coming to film a report.

But that tone quickly changed. Padilla said Mitchell told her that he had received phone calls from gun rights groups questioning the gun’s sale and that he had canceled the TV interview.

The National Rifle Association, a fierce opponent of smart-gun technology, did not return several requests for comment on whether it called Oak Tree. The National Shooting Sports Foundation denied calling Oak Tree.

Mitchell “was clearly distraught,” Padilla said. “I told him, ‘It’s going to be okay. You’re doing the right thing.’ Then it just got worse.”

Padilla, whose company has a federal firearms license registered to Oak Tree’s address, soon discovered that Armatix hats and other merchandise were put away. The special firing range that she and Oak Tree outfitted, painted blue with a large Armatix sign, was repainted. When she took a client to buy the gun at the store, she was told there were “computer glitches.”

Though she said she is “disappointed to say the least” about Oak Tree’s reaction, Padilla also said she felt bad for Mitchell.

“It’s sad, because at the end of the day, he was trying to do something good, which is provide choice for those people that want safety,” Padilla said.

But many customers and gun rights advocates don’t see it that way. Even though many smart-gun proponents, including the Silicon Valley group offering the $1 million prize, say the market should decide whether the technology is accepted, a fear of mandates looms.

“People have a reasonable suspicion that anti-gun governments will work toward mandating this unproven technology,” said Brandon Combs, president of the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, a Second Amendment advocacy group. Gun owners, he said, find it “purely offensive.”

And many Oak Tree customers have loudly made that known.

David Simantob, a member of the gun range, said in an e-mail: “Oak Tree’s association with Armatix the last year was never satisfactorily explained, and their recent back pedaling trying to explain it away has unfortunately created an even bigger problem for those of us who care about our Second Amendment rights.”

Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Charles Plosser is "very worried" about the potential for unintended consequences of the Fed's massive quantitative easing program.

Plosser told CNBC that the U.S. was still suffering from "lasting effects" of the recession and "may never return" to its previous growth rates—and warned that policy should not bet on growth returning to previous rates, saying it could be "many, many years." 

Fed's Plosser: We need to begin to get rid of QE)

With gross domestic product expanding at a 2.4 percent annual rate, according to the Commerce Department last Friday, Plosser said that the country was "pretty close" to its steady state growth and may never get back to where it once thought it could be. "To keep trying to think that we're going to do that, means that we keep trying to overplay our hand in terms of policy," he added.

Charles Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
Plosser, a noted hawk at the Federal Open Market Committee, expressed concerns over the unwinding of the central bank's asset purchases. The Fed has undergone three stages of quantitative easing (QE) since the finical crash of 2008 in an effort to increase liquidity and stimulate lending. Its bond purchases of $85 billion-a-month last year have been dialed back at recent policy meetings, with $65 billion added to the economy this month as the Fed proceeds towards the exit door. 

"I am very worried about the potential for unintended consequences of all this action. And it's very difficult for us to know because we've never done this before," Plosser said, adding that the curbing of this extra liquidity in the global economy would be "very challenging".

"Sometimes if you don't have Plan B, you don't have a plan," he warned.

Central banks across the world have followed the Fed's lead by injecting more cash into the system, with the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan both embarking on QE with benchmark interest rates at record lows. Plosser said that there is a lot of pressure on central banks around the globe and expectations of what these banks can do have risen to "unhealthy highs."

"I would lie to see over time, central banks to gradually pull themselves in to the background, because we are not the 'panacea,' we are not the 'silver bullet,' " he said.

The current unwinding of the Fed's asset purchases has caused wobbles in emerging market currencies. U.S. investors that once searched the world for a high yield on their assets are now returning home in expectation of more normal monetary conditions.

On two different occasions, countries including Brazil, Turkey and India have seen weakness in their currencies with analysts claiming that the moderation of easy money as being a key reason.

Plosser said that monetary policy is primarily a domestic policy and problems and challenges arise when other countries decide to tie their monetary policy to another country in some form or fashion.

He added that Fed Chair Janet Yellen, and her predecessor Ben Bernanke, have managed to get this policy just right, stating that they should focus first and foremost on the U.S. economy.

"The best thing the U.S. can do for the global economy is have a strong economy itself...over the longer run that will make for a much healthily world economy," he said.
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A man walks through the 9/11 Empty Sky memorial across from New York's Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in Liberty State Park (Reuters / Gary Hershorn)A British news channel is preparing to broadcast video footage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks captured from outer space for the first time in the coming weeks.

Channel 4, a public service television station based in the United Kingdom, has announced that it will show footage from that Tuesday morning captured from the International Space Station by Frank Culbertson, the only American on board the ISS. When Culbertson was notified that something had occurred in New York, he realized they would be passing over the city soon.

“I zipped around the station until I found a window that would give me a view of New York City and grabbed the nearest camera,” he told last year. “The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city. After reading one of the news articles we just received, I believe we were looking at New York around the time of, or shortly after, the collapse of the second tower.”

“I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I knew it was really bad because there was a big cloud of debris covering Manhattan,” he went on. “That’s when it really became painful because it was like seeing a wound in the side of your country, your family, your friends.”

Culbertson learned hours after the attack that his friend, Chic Burlingame, was one of the pilots who died in the attack. Burlingame was steering American Airlines Flight 77, the aircraft that was eventually flown into the Pentagon in Washington DC.

Despite sitting more than 200 miles above the scene, Culbertson captured the images that have been replicated thousands of times across the media. The footage, which has never been broadcast to the public, will be aired on March 16 as part of a documentary series focusing on the lives of astronauts.

“Not every frame has been seen before, so every frame that was shot on that day is in the show,” Tom Brisley, the creative director of the Channel 4 project, told the Guardian.

At one point, Culbertson plays the Taps trumpet call as a tribute to the day’s events. He will also be interviewed throughout the film to explain what it was like to have such a unique view.

Culbertson wrote a letter on September 12, reflecting on the events that took place the previous day.

“I couldn’t even imagine the particulars, even before the news of further destruction began coming in,” he wrote. “Other than the emotional impact of our country being attacked and thousands of our citizens and maybe some friends being killed, the most overwhelming feeling being where I am is one of isolation.”

But as the September 11 attacks turned into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a number of researchers at universities across the US have warned that media consumers who repeatedly expose themselves to such gruesome images could be putting themselves at risk of psychological damage.

Roxanne Cohen Silver, a professor of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine, said that people who spent four hours or more soaking up 9/11 or Iraq War coverage were more likely to experience acute stress.

“The results suggest that exposure to graphic media images may be an important mechanism through which the impact of collective trauma is dispersed widely,” Silver said, as quoted by the university’s website. “Our findings are both relevant and timely as vivid images reach larger audiences than ever before through YouTube, social media and smartphones.”


- Joe Newby -

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke warned of a second American revolution if gun control and gun confiscation passed and said he would not enforce laws requiring confiscation in his county while speaking with Alex Jones, Infowars reported Tuesday.

“First of all, to me that would be an act of tyranny," he said of the gun control measures currently under consideration. "So the people in Milwaukee County do not have to worry about me enforcing some sort of order that goes out and collects everybody’s handgun, or rifles, or any kind of firearm and makes them turn them in.”

“The reason is I don’t want to get shot, because I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude, you would see the second coming of an American revolution, the likes of which would make the first revolution pale by comparison," he added.

In January, Clarke issued a public safety message urging citizens to get training from a certified gun safety course so they could properly defend themselves.

"I'm Sheriff David Clarke and I want to talk to you about something personal: your safety. It's no longer a spectator sport; I need you in the game. But are you ready? With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option. You can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back. But are you prepared? Consider taking a certified safety course in handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family," he said in the ad.

Across the country, law enforcement officers, state legislators and firearm manufacturers have responded to attempts to pass gun confiscation laws at the federal and state level.

A growing number of gun makers have said, for example, that they would no longer do business with the State of New York after lawmakers passed strict gun control laws.

Responding to a gun confiscation bill in Missouri, a GOP state representative proposed making it a felony to introduce gun control measures.

In Washington State, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would nullify federal gun control laws in that state.

For many, the numerous gun control measures being considered have nothing to do with gun safety, and Sheriff Clarke agreed.

“This is about attacking the Second Amendment, it’s about going after the wrong crowd," he said. According to the sheriff, much of the violence he sees is not committed by criminals using the guns lawmakers want to ban.

“Government control cannot go on as long as people have some sort of ability to say ‘hey wait just a doggone minute,'" he added. “That’s what the government fears, they don’t really fear the criminals, they support the criminals. What they fear is a law abiding person.”

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