Armatix iP1 System credit: Armatix

Armatix iP1 System
credit: Armatix

As one might expect, the legacy media are reporting the low-level marketing of what is likely the first so-called “safe” gun as the most marvelous technological innovation since sliced bread.  The Armatix iP1 is being lauded as the gun that will transform the American firearm scene and that will enable all manner of gun control schemes.  Fox News has the basic details:  

The first so-called ‘smart gun’ has hit the shelves at U.S. retail outlets, including one of the biggest firearms stores in California, according to the Washington Post

The Smart System iP1, a .22-caliber pistol made by the German gun-maker Armatix GmbH, can only function with an accompanying wristwatch, which is sold separately.

When the RFID-equipped watch is activated by a PIN number and placed near the gun — like when a shooter grips the handle — it sends a signal to unlock the gun and a light on the back of the weapon turns green, according to the report. Otherwise, the firearm stays locked and the light on the back remains red, it stated.

The pistol sells for $1,399 and the watch retails for another $399 — more than double the cost of .40-caliber Glock handgun, according to the article.

The company is betting that demand for the technology will increase as consumers seek guns modified for safety.

The Washington Post notes gun-banners salivating over the possibilities:

The implications of the iP1’s introduction are potentially enormous, both politically and economically. (And culturally — the gun that reads James Bond’s palm print in ‘Skyfall’ is no longer a futuristic plot twist.)

Lawmakers around the country have been intrigued by the possibilities. New Jersey passed a hotly contested law in 2002 requiring that only smart guns be sold in the state within three years of a smart gun being sold anywhere in the country. A similar measure made it through the California Senate last year, and at the federal level, Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.) also has introduced a mandate.

Although National Rifle Association officials did not respond to requests for comment about smart-gun technology, the group fiercely opposes ‘government mandates that require the use of expensive, unreliable features, such as grips that would read your fingerprints before the gun will fire,’ according to the Web site of its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. ‘And NRA recognizes that the ‘smart guns’ issue clearly has the potential to mesh with the anti-gunner’s agenda, opening the door to a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology.’

Even so, smart guns are potentially more palatable than other technological mandates, such as placing GPS tracking chips in guns, a controversial concept floated this session in the Maryland General Assembly.

I exposed the fallacies of James Bond’s “smart” Walther PPK in an August 2013 PJ Media article.  Suffice it to say that movie scripts and reality often do not well agree.  A real smart gun such as those envisioned by gun banners would have killed Bond and the Bond movie franchise.

Armatix iP1

Armatix iP1

The gun at the heart of this new excitement over depriving Americans of the right to self-defense is a German invention, the Armatix iP1, which is actually a handgun with an accompanying watch/transmitter.  There is very little technical information currently available on the pistol and its particulars.  I am unaware of any competent firearm people that have had the opportunity to actually test the gun, though there are a number of promotional videos available–in German–on YouTube.  Photos of the weapon do not seem to show an exposed hammer of any kind, so it’s possible that the weapon is either a striker fired mechanism similar to the Glock design, or a double-action only mechanism, requiring a relatively long and heavy trigger pull for each shot fired.  It does appear to be quite conventional in that it is a relatively small handgun firing the ubiquitous .22LR cartridge from a 10 round magazine.  Photographs of the left side of the weapon appear to show no safety lever, but there is what appears to be a slide stop lever present.

Walther P22

Walther P22

It appears, therefore, to be in about the same general class as two very popular .22LR semiautomatic pistols: the Walther P22 and the Ruger SR22, both double action, exposed hammer designs.  However, judging only from photographs, the iP1 does appear to be somewhat bulkier, particularly in the grip area, which is presumably where its electronics and battery reside.  The entire weapon appears to be rendered in gray tones, which is an odd choice.  Though it may look futuristic, gray sights are a bad choice in that lacking contrast, they tend to be indistinct and hard to see, and the color will show dirt, oil, grease and powder residue–always an issue with the .22LR–badly.

Ruger SR22

Ruger SR22

Perhaps the worst feature of the weapon is its price.  As Fox noted, the gun and watch are separately priced, which is a bit of cynical marketing as the $1400 weapon is apparently useless without the $400 watch/transmitter.  This is a $1800 battery-enabled, apparently overly large .22LR handgun of unknown reliability trying to make inroads in a marketplace populated by well-designed, safe, accurate, and utterly reliable handguns that cost far, far less.  The Ruger SR22 and Walther P22 retail in the $350.00 range.  The iP1 costs about five times more.

The Washington Post is also wrong about Glocks.  Most Glock models retail in the $550.00 range, making the .22LR iP1 more than three times the cost of a Glock in an effective self-defense caliber.  The .22LR is absolutely not a serious self-defense caliber.  The .380 ACP is generally considered to be the smallest practical defensive caliber.  There would be nothing preventing putting the electronics of the iP1 in a pistol of a more appropriate caliber, so it’s difficult to imagine why Armatix is trying to break into the defensive pistol market with a caliber so clearly inappropriate to that market.

The Walther and Ruger are quick and easy to clean and maintain.  There is no available data on the iP1, though there is no question that cleaning solvents are destructive–to say the least–to electronics.  It’s likely the iP1 will require particular care.

Armatix literature notes that the iP1 has an “electronic magazine disconnect (is this a magazine safety that won’t allow the weapon to fire without an inserted magazine?),” “different operating modes,” “and operating distance of up to 10 inches,” and an “integrated grip and drop safety.”  Again, judging solely from photographs, it’s hard to tell how any of these “features” will convince anyone to pay five times more than for a conventional handgun.  Yes, this is a so-called “smart” gun, but simplly using basic safety procedures is sufficient to make any firearm safe.

A video of the weapon being fired has essentially convinced me that this is, as Col. Jeff Cooper said about double action semiautomatic pistols, “an ingenious solution to a nonexistent problem.  Apparently done in an Armatix indoor shoot facility, a shooter demonstrates that the weapon won’t fire unless the watch is properly manipulated, but it took about ten seconds, and multiple presses of two separate buttons on the watch to input what appeared to be at least a four digit PIN code to enable the gun.  This video, entirely in German, shows a shooter manipulating the watch by pressing no less than four separate buttons in what appears to be a rather demanding sequence to input a PIN code, again, taking about ten seconds.

I have no idea how long the watch–which is large and bulky–remains active once the PIN is entered.  If only a short time, this system is far more dangerous to its user than an attacker as it requires a substantial amount of time to activate, and the manipulation of multiple small buttons on a wristwatch in a specific sequence.  No doubt there is some time limit, which would require repeatedly entering the PIN code.  Need I point out that this would be all but impossible in the dark, in bad weather, while wearing heavy clothing, or when under stress or attack?

With a transmission range of “up to 10 inches,” the uninitiated might assume this is an entirely safe gun, unable to be used by unauthorized persons and unable to be used against its owner.  Not so.  This is just a partial list of the potential problems:

(1) Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) is a serious issue, and with the widespread proliferation of cellphone, it’s non-trivial.  Nearby radio energy sources can easily render such weapons inert or reception can be intermittent.

(2) Any radio signal can be intercepted, analyzed and sent back as a jamming signal.

(3) Government would surely love to know the frequencies of such weapons–would demand to have that data–and could therefore simply render citizen’s weapons inert at will.

(4) As long as the weapon is within 10 inches of the watch, whether it is on the wrist of the intended wearer or not, the gun will fire.

(5) If the PIN code isn’t entered, the gun is useless, and as I’ve explained, entering it appears to be a lengthy and non-trivial exercise.

(6) If the watch is misplaced, lost or damaged, or its battery is dead, the gun is a paperweight.

(7) The owner can’t shoot the weapon with their weak hand unless they keep the watch within 10 inches (“up to 10 inches,” which suggests the range is less under most conditions).

(8) All batteries fail in the cold, and any battery-powered device will fail.  With devices like TV remotes, this is an annoyance.  With a handgun, it could be deadly.  Armatix claims batteries will last up to a year, but does not specify under what conditions.  Obviously, the more the weapon is used and activated, the more rapidly the batteries will drain.  Radio transmitter/receivers use a great deal of battery power.

Just above the shooter’s hand is an indicator light that wraps entirely around the backstrap, and glows red when the weapon is unable to fire and green when it will fire.  Among the last things one wants is a gun that actually glows in the dark, particularly in a gunfight.  Such things tend to become bullet magnets.

There are many additional potential problems with such devices.  Handguns are useful because they are relatively simple, affordable devices that do a specific, limited job for a wide range of people to a very high degree of reliability under all imaginable conditions.  The iP1–and all similar weapons being developed–are complex, unaffordable devices displaying reliability that is at best, unknown, and that absolutely will fail under many known and common conditions.  Mandating such weapons would have the effect of disarming most citizens–which is precisely what the gun banners want; safety has nothing to do with it–and making the work of violent predators much, much safer and easier.

Absent more specific information, the iP1 appears to be nothing more than a niche product that will appeal to only a tiny–and wealthy–portion of the gun-owning public.  Anything that will disarm the law-abiding is, of course, appealing to a certain class of politician.

Col. Cooper was right.  This is an ingenious–and very expensive–solution to a nonexistent problem.