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(News-Press.com) - Local gun shop personnel and gun safety experts say the recent controversy over the possible sales of a smart gun in the U.S. is nothing but hokum.

Several gun shops across the country announced earlier this year they would be offering a "smart gun" for sale, one that uses computer chip technology to allow only a specific user to operate the weapon.

However, the shops later backtracked, saying they had been pressured and threatened into not selling the weapon.

"If there was a huge demand, I'd sell it," said John Dezendorf, general manager for Fowler Firearms on Fowler Street in Fort Myers. "I, myself, would not buy it. And nobody has asked for it. Nobody can force us to do anything we don't want to do."

"To most people in the industry it's kind of a joke," said Alecs Dean, president of International Firearms Safety of Fort Myers.

"Exactly," agreed Dezendorf. "This is old technology. Ten years old. It's no issue."

The smart gun has engendered controversy in gun-rights circles with opponents claiming the technology is just another way to bring on gun control. To the gun groups, the idea of using technology to control who can fire a gun smacks of a limitation on personal rights, particularly if mandated by government.

In 1994 the research arm of the Justice Department began studying prospects of making a police gun that a criminal would not be able to fire if he wrestled it away during a struggle. Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories examined available technology in 1996 and found it promising, but wanting.

Stephen Teret, a former attorney and public health expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, began trying to get lawmakers and gun makers interested in the concept of personalized weapons. He convinced U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., to earmark funding for the Justice study. And in the mid-1990s he voiced support for a project at Colt's Manufacturing Co., the legendary but beleaguered gun maker that saw an opportunity to sell safe guns to police officers and parents of young children.

Colt's developed a gun equipped with a microchip that would prevent it from firing unless the user was wearing an enabling device located in a special wristband. But gun rights activists were skeptical, partly because the government was funding research of the concept and because gun control advocates like Teret embraced it.

At about the same time, New Jersey lawmakers began discussing a measure requiring all new handguns sold in the state to be personalized, three years after the technology came to market. The measure passed in 2002.

Colt's eventually abandoned development of a personalized gun.

Earlier this year, two gun shops, one in California and another in Maryland, had announced that they would sell a version of a smart gun but then backed off in the face of what they said was huge pressure, calls, emails and even a threat of gun violence.

The crux of the matter is the New Jersey law that languished on the books until a story in a New Jersey newspaper brought it to light and Armatix, a German systems access manufacturer, geared up to sell a smart gun system here.

Dean, the president of International Firearms Safety of Fort Myers, said the current state-of-the-art smart guns are no better now than they were then.

"Do we have the technology developed to do it? Sure. Does it work? No. I'll stick to my dumb guns."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Connect with this reporter: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook) @MichaelBraunNP (Twitter)

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