Bonnie get your gun off

By Jeremy Lott
web posted February 26, 2001

Normally laissez faire types don't cheer when they hear that a distinguished and well-respected company has fallen on hard times but in the case of Smith & Wesson, I made an exception. This elation wasn't due to the piss poor quality of its products; though that probably shouldn't be overlooked. To wit,

"Why would you get a Smith & Wesson when you can get a Ruger?" asked Joel Miller, friend, gun nut and commentary editor for, in a phone interview recently.

Nor should my outburst be blamed on a hatred of firearms. I get along with guns – and gun owners – just fine thank you, as long as I'm not staring down the wrong end of the barrel.

The reason for my… glee can be found in the first few lines of a Jan. 29 piece by Matt Bai on

"Smith's vaunted handgun line was easily the biggest seller at Romanoff's Pittsburgh-area store, Ace Sporting Goods—until last March. That's when the 149-year-old gunmaker signed a stunning agreement with the Feds to get out from under lawsuits, promising to impose strict new rules on all its dealers.

"Now those who wanted to keep selling Smith guns would have to keep computerized records of every sale and store all their guns—not just Smiths—in some kind of vault. And they'd have to limit their customers to one gun every two weeks."

Consequently, Smith & Wesson's sales, er, shot right through the floor. Out of desperation, S&W has since scaled back on its demands but most gun dealers aren't having any.

"Romanoff says there's no way he can keep selling Smiths if he has to accept the company's terms," writes Bai.

The reason for Romanoff's reluctance is that gun buyers do not like being pushed by one manufacturer into accepting more limits on what many of them believe to be an inalienable right.

To understand why S&W was willing to risk alienating its loyal customer base, look back at the political climate of 2000.

In the wake of the mammoth jury awards and the settlement of the state attorneys general with big tobacco, Bill Clinton, the NAACP and every liability lawyer in the republic threatened to bring the gun industry to its knees. Gun manufacturers' deadly products were killing children! and therefore must be stopped.

And the forecast didn't look much better. The fanatical Al Gore was seen as a nigh inevitable successor to the current cigar-chomping, duck-hunting, anti-tobacco, anti-gun president. Gore's ascension would mean at the least that various lawsuits would be allowed to bleed gun manufacturers to death.

Given those gruesome odds, rather than fight it S&W decided that if it rolled over first it could curry favor with the government, gain immunity from lawsuits and perhaps have an edge on supplying cops with guns.

But once this once-great Titan rolled over, gun owners and the NRA decided it was the better part of valor not to play dead. They threw their support behind one Gov. George W. Bush, who had signed concealed carry legislation and prohibited Texas cities from suing gun manufacturers for damages related to gun violence.

For their part, other gun makers both refused to sign onto the government's agreement and, reports Bai, "[handgun manufacturer] Taurus started giving away an NRA membership with every new gun, just to underscore its commitment to gun rights."

So, fairly or unfairly, S&W found itself isolated from its own customers and on the losing side of a rather vicious election cycle. And rather than back out of the deal with the government, S&W is still attempting to get dealers to go along with a watered-down version of its now all-but-obsolete agreement.

In a way, it's sad. It was once said that:

"God created men. Smith & Wesson made them equal."

Yet one more truth that Bill Clinton made a lie.

Jeremy Lott is the writer and publisher behind Deviant Readings.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

Current Issue

Archive Main | 2001

E-mail ESR




1996-2023, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.