Smith & Wesson’s safety tactics trigger NRA debate

SPRINGFIELD, MA: Smith & Wesson landed in the rhetorical bull’s-eye of pro-gun activists last month after signing an agreement with litigious government agencies to adopt sweeping safety measures. But the country’s largest gun manufacturer claimed last week that the decision was made to insure the commercial viability of its products, not to set itself apart from competitors in the public mind.

SPRINGFIELD, MA: Smith & Wesson landed in the rhetorical bull’s-eye of pro-gun activists last month after signing an agreement with litigious government agencies to adopt sweeping safety measures. But the country’s largest gun manufacturer claimed last week that the decision was made to insure the commercial viability of its products, not to set itself apart from competitors in the public mind.

SPRINGFIELD, MA: Smith & Wesson landed in the rhetorical bull’s-eye

of pro-gun activists last month after signing an agreement with

litigious government agencies to adopt sweeping safety measures. But the

country’s largest gun manufacturer claimed last week that the decision

was made to insure the commercial viability of its products, not to set

itself apart from competitors in the public mind.



Predictably, pro-gun groups felt betrayed by S&W’s decision. The

Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute painted S&W as a

’rebel’ trying to take credit for voluntary safety practices many

gunmakers already follow, while the National Rifle Association accused

S&W of surrendering to the wishes of the Clinton administration.

Individual gun manufacturers, driven more by economics than ideology,

took more moderate stances, some stressing that many of the agreement’s

tenets are already standard industry practice.



’We knew that we were not going to make a lot of people happy,’ said S&W

public and media relations director Ken Jorgensen. ’We can either go out

of business in the marketplace or we can go out of business in the

courtroom, and we’d rather be in the marketplace.’ The company’s UK

parent, Tomkins, has recently been focusing on core businesses that

don’t include guns, Jorgensen acknowledged, but he said that the

nationality of S&W’s ownership had little effect on the decision.



Indeed, more than one critic emphasized S&W’s overseas ties and said

that the Second Amendment has no corollary across the pond. ’I’m not

comfortable about the Brits telling us how to deal with our Bill of

Rights,’ NRA president Charlton Heston told The Associated Press.



S&W’s PR activities surrounding the agreement involved issuing a

statement and responding to about 100 press inquiries. Jorgensen said

the company liberally gave credit to other gunmakers for instituting

protocols voluntarily, but added that the mainstream media previously

took little notice of things like the ubiquitousness of safety

locks.



S&W also went out of its way to refute claims that it cut a special deal

with litigants. ’(The agreement) was crafted by the government,’

Jorgensen said. The National Shooting Sports Foundation confirmed this

in a press release.



While the agreement elicited positive response from the public, S&W took

a calculated risk that it might alienate some of its core customers,

Jorgensen admitted, noting that polarization of the gun debate makes

middle ground hard to find.



’If you want to resolve the issue, you are in the middle,’ he said.

’People are taking shots at you from both sides.’



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