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NJIT: 'No one is proposing we roll out a weapon' that isn't safe

Gun Owners of America's Larry Pratt cited NJIT research about why 'smart gun' technology doesn't work, but the NJIT says Pratt has it wrong.
A man holds a prototype of a smart gun by Armatix during the International Guns Exhibition Nuremberg, March 13, 2009.
A man holds a prototype of a smart gun by Armatix during the International Guns Exhibition Nuremberg, March 13, 2009.

The debate over "smart gun" technology--between developers and the gun lobbies--has a new face caught in the middle of the fight: a university that is saying it's not sure how it got there.

On Wednesday, the New Jersey Institute of Technology responded to claims made by Gun Owners of America's Larry Pratt about the failure rate of "smart guns."

"Twenty percent of the time, this thing won’t work," Pratt said on msnbc's All In With Chris Hayes Tuesday night. "Twenty percent of the time it won’t work, and you’re asking people to put their lives in the hands of a product like that?" 

Pratt cited research from the NJIT as his evidence, but longtime NJIT administrator and current president of the New Jersey Innovation Institute Dr. Donald Sebastian says those claims are false.

"I'm not sure what he's quoting about us when he says that," Sebastian told msnbc in a phone interview. He said the NJIT has no research that backs up Pratt's numbers. "No one is proposing we roll out a weapon that fails 20% of the time."

Sebastian explained that while the NJIT has conducted research on "smart gun" technology, the prototype they've tested uses Dynamic Grip Recognition technology, rather than the RFID technology that the Armatix iP1 smart gun employs. 

Dynamic Grip Recognition, which is similar to voice recognition technology, can be trained to recognize an individual's grip pattern profile--something researchers found was unique to every person. 

And the effectiveness of Dynamic Grip Recognition? The NJIT reports it's 99%.

New Jersey State Sen. Loretta Weinberg told msnbc last week that she would be willing to introduce a bill to repeal the 2002 "smart gun" law if the National Rifle Association would stop obstructing the sales of smart gun technology. 

The law says New Jersey gun sellers would have three years to stop selling traditional guns if smart guns go on the market anywhere in the country.

Smart gun opponents have maintained their position over the last decade about the dangers associated with relying on technology in guns. "No technology is foolproof," said Nancy Ross, spokeswoman for the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, after the bill was signed in 2002. "Anyone who has a computer knows how many times it crashes."

Pratt echoed her statement Tuesday night on msnbc, adding, "[Weinberg] is imposing a mandate. She's violating the Constitution. She's sticking a faulty product in our hands that we don't want."

And although Sebastian admits that both sides of the smart gun debate dislike the NJIT's research for different reasons, he is quick to respond to that argument. "We depend on electronics for life-saving measures in a thousand different walks of life," he said. "Guns should be no different."