Nra Turns Against Smith & Wesson

Posted: March 23, 2000

WASHINGTON — Hoping to stanch further defections by gun manufacturers, the National Rifle Association is trying to rally gun owners and dealers against Smith & Wesson for the company's decision to adopt tighter controls on the sales of its handguns.

The 3.5-million-member NRA is depicting the company, based in Springfield, Mass., as a traitor to the cause of gun owners' rights.

In an escalating war with the Clinton administration, the NRA hopes to discourage other manufacturers from joining in the White House-brokered agreement with Smith & Wesson.

Already, two gun-makers have announced they will not be part of the agreement, and a third, Glock Inc., said it was rejecting the deal after briefly considering it.

Since the agreement was announced Friday, Smith & Wesson has been swamped with thousands of phone calls, e-mails and faxes, mostly from angry gun owners and dealers, company spokesman Ken Jorgenson said.

Typical of the reaction was Bob Viden, owner of Bob's Little Sports Shop, which sells firearms and other sporting goods in Glassboro, N.J.

Viden, a member of the NRA board of directors, said he would not agree to some of the conditions the agreement imposes on retailers who deal in the company's products.

"If they expect me to sign on to this, I will no longer be a Smith & Wesson dealer," he said. "And if the agreement is what I've read so far, I can't imagine Smith & Wesson being in business at this time next year."

Under the agreement, Smith & Wesson would institute new controls on the design and distributions of its guns to make them safer, especially through use of trigger locks and so-called smart-gun technology, and keep them out of the hands of children and criminals.

The company also agreed to adopt a "code of conduct" that would, among other things, require gun shows that sell Smith & Wesson weapons to conduct complete background checks on every buyer. Smith & Wesson is the nation's largest manufacturer of handguns.

In return for the concessions, 17 of 29 state and local governments, including Camden's, have agreed to dismiss their lawsuits against Smith & Wesson, and the firm will be protected from future suits that seek to hold manufacturers responsible for the costs of gun violence in cities.

Paul Jannuzzo, vice president and general counsel for Glock, said that in deciding not to sign an agreement like Smith & Wesson's, the company "had to balance the cost of bleeding to death with legal bills against the possibility of a consumer boycott."

Robert Delfay, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a major trade group, said that he had canvassed most of the big manufacturers, including the top 10, and that they do not intend to follow Smith & Wesson's lead.

"I talked to the vast majority of them and the unanimous response was, 'No way,' " Delfay said.

Loss of sales of its popular firearms is now the central concern at Smith & Wesson. Even more of a threat than a boycott by owners is the possibility that at a later date, a half-dozen big distributors might decide not to buy more guns from the firm after inventories in their warehouses are depleted.

The company was scrambling yesterday to keep dealers and distributors on board in marathon phone conversations explaining the agreement to its customers.

"The ones that we're talking to and explaining things to are more accepting," said Jorgenson, the Smith & Wesson spokesman. "It's going to take a while to sort all of this out."

He said the company knew it would suffer some short-term loss of sales when the agreement was announced. "We knew going into this that it was not going to be popular with some people," he said.

To counter the assault on Smith & Wesson by the gun lobby, Andrew Cuomo, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been personally calling top executives of gun companies. Yesterday, the White House took further steps to try to make the agreement look attractive to other manufacturers.

A group of government officials including Cuomo and top White House advisers announced the formation of a Communities for Safer Guns Coalition, a group of local governments that promise to do what the administration had suggested last week: Favor gun-makers who agree to the deal when it comes time to purchase firearms by volume for police agencies. The group includes Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit, Boston, Newark and other cities, the White House said.

Cuomo has assumed a leading role in the strategy because under his watch, HUD had been considering suing the industry for the costs of gun violence at HUD's public-housing complexes.

On the other side, the NRA has put to work one of its most effective tactics: rallying the members. In a special alert to its membership, the lobby called Smith & Wesson "the first gun maker to run up the white flag of surrender and duck behind the Clinton-Gore lines, blindsiding other members of the U.S. firearms industry."

While stopping short of calling for a boycott, the NRA said gun distributors and retailers must choose between selling the company's guns "or selling firearms and accessories from those manufacturers who are not willing to cave in to antigun threats of suits or promises of financial reward."

The agreement that Smith & Wesson signed also calls for building additional internal safety locks into new guns, devoting 2 percent of company revenues to "smart gun" technology that allows guns to be fired by just one owner, developing guns that cannot readily be operated by children under 6, and denying guns to purchasers unless they have completed a background check - even if a check takes longer than the current legal standard of three business days.

The company also agreed to terminate contracts with gun dealers or distributors if a "disproportionate number" of crimes are traced to the weapons they sell.

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