President Obama called Friday for boosting so-called “smart gun” technology – and setting new requirements for manufacturers – while also pushing a new rule to ensure mental health records are shared with the background check system.
The initiatives, part of the administration’s long-running effort to reduce gun violence, saw the president wading deeper into the debate over smart gun technology.
Smart guns are designed to prevent accidental shootings or help find missing weapons, including by using technology that only allows the guns to be fired by authorized users.
As part of the effort to promote their use, the administration is pursuing requirements that manufacturers would have to meet for law enforcement agencies to consider purchasing guns with that technology.
“These common-sense steps are not going to prevent every tragedy, but what if they prevented even one?" Obama wrote in a Facebook post.
The National Rifle Association and other gun groups have expressed concern about any new mandates from the government requiring it.
"President Obama's obsession with gun control knows no boundaries,” said Jennifer Baker, director of NRA-ILA Public Affairs, in a written statement. “At a time when we are actively fighting terrorists at home and abroad, this administration would rather focus the military's efforts on the president’s gun control agenda.”
And law enforcement groups have voiced concerns about the reliability of the tech, and whether it can be trusted when needed most.
The announcements Friday, however, did not include mandates to use the weapons. Rather, the Justice and Homeland Security departments say they expect to complete the work of identifying smart-gun standards by October, “and will also identify agencies interested in taking part in a pilot program to develop the technology.”
Obama unveiled a plan last January to expand background checks for gun purchases. At the time, he directed federal agencies to conduct research into smart-gun technology – and regularly review the availability of such technology and to promote its use.
The Defense Department will continue to help manufacturers test smart firearms under real-world conditions at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland. Gun makers could also be eligible to win cash prizes through the program. The federal government will also continue to help state and local governments as smart-gun technology develops, a White House statement said.
"Many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally," Obama said. "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."
The president on Friday also called for more attention to be paid to the mentally ill.
The Social Security Administration is moving forward with a plan to publish a proposed rule to help ensure mental health records about people who are prohibited from buying a gun are reported to the background check system.
Obama said the White House will hold a 50-state conference in May on preventing gun violence as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.