By Tom Ramstack
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Maryland gun shop owner has dropped his plan to be the first in the United States to sell a so-called "smart gun" after a backlash that included death threats.
Andy Raymond, co-owner of Engage Armament in Rockville, a Washington suburb, said he was trying to protect his business by reversing his decision to sell the Armatix iP1 .22-caliber handgun, which electronically limits the ability to fire the weapon.
"I can't have my shop burned down," Raymond said on Friday. "I have people to look out for."
He said late Thursday on his Facebook page that he would back off the planned sales.
The gun is implanted with an electronic chip that allows it to be fired only if the shooter is wearing a watch that communicates with it through a radio signal. If the gun is moved more than 10 inches from the watch, it will not fire.
Gun rights activists contend the smart gun violates their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Raymond said he received death threats among the hundreds of phone calls protesting his decision to sell smart guns.
"You're going to get what's coming to you," was among the messages he received, Raymond said.
"They told my business partner they would burn down the shop. I try to be reasonable with people but I guess I made a mistake."
The Oak Tree Gun Club near Los Angeles said it would sell the "smart guns" this year but the weapons were removed from shelves after protests and threats from gun advocates. The club owners later denied they ever planned to sell them.
Raymond said he planned to sell the German-made guns initially "on principle" because he believed in the right of gun ownership.
"You have freedom," he said. "It shouldn't be compromised."
Armatix and the National Rifle Association, the U.S. gun lobby, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Opponents fear that sale of smart guns would trigger a New Jersey law requiring that all guns sold in the state be equipped with smart technology within three years after it becomes available.
President Barack Obama said he supports smart gun technology but he has run into criticism from the NRA.
The guns could lead to "a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology," said a blog by the NRA's political arm.
(Editing by Ian Simpson and Jeffrey Benkoe)