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Obama Puts His Weight Behind Smart-Gun Technology


WASHINGTON — President Obama will use the power of his office to try to jump-start long-stalled “smart-gun” technology that could eventually allow only the owner of a firearm to use it, the White House announced Friday.

Over the opposition of gun rights groups, he also vowed to push ahead with a new federal policy giving the F.B.I. access to more mental health records of some Social Security recipients to better flag people who might be banned from buying a gun.

The dual moves expand on a series of steps that a tearful Mr. Obama pledged to take in January to confront gun violence with or without Congress, which has offered stiff opposition to broader gun control measures.

But the steps announced Friday generated objections not only from usual opponents like the National Rifle Association, but also from some police groups, which raised safety concerns about officers’ using untested smart guns in real-life situations.

The administration stopped short of mandating the use of smart guns by federal agencies but said it saw promise in committing more federal money and attention to a technology that has evolved in fits and starts over more than two decades.

The idea behind the smart-gun technology is to limit the use of a firearm to its owner, through personalized identifiers like a biometric sensor on the gun grip, a ring sensor worn by the owner or a digital pass code entered on a wristband.

Advocates see the technology as a way of stopping criminals from using stolen guns — or children from accidentally shooting themselves or others.

Just this month, the nation saw nine accidental shootings in one week involving children as young as 2 years old.

But despite millions of dollars in federal grant money awarded to gun manufacturers and researchers, no commercially viable smart gun has emerged, officials said.

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In New Jersey, lawmakers passed a 2002 law requiring that guns be “smart” once they have been available on the market for three years.

That three-year countdown has never been started in part because of pressure from gun rights activists on manufacturers not to develop the technology.

Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a new smart-gun measure.

The latest push was introduced on the White House website Friday, along with a report from the administration’s law enforcement agencies on the viability and effectiveness of smart-gun technology.

It concluded that the federal government could do more — by making it cheaper for gun manufacturers to bring smart guns to the market and by using the federal government’s enormous purchasing power to encourage development.

Interactive Feature | What You Need to Know About Guns in America This collection of past Times interactive graphics and explanatory articles focuses on the American gun control debate.

To that end, the Justice and Homeland Security Departments will develop criteria for gun manufacturers that want to sell smart guns to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The administration will also offer millions more in cash awards and grants to gun manufacturers to encourage development of the technology.

In a post on his Facebook page, Mr. Obama wrote that “as long as we’ve got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun.”

James O. Pasco Jr., executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, which has more than 330,000 members, said in a telephone interview that he was glad to see that the plan announced by the White House did not mandate the testing of smart-gun technology by law enforcement agencies.

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But he said he remained concerned by a renewed push.

“They’ve been talking about smart guns for 25 years,” he said. “But we don’t want unproven technology to be tried out on law enforcement officers, who are most likely to be in the line of fire when they need their weapons to work. This is fine if the concept works, but we

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