Thu, May 30, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Gun makers say illegal sales are not their problem

More than 30 US cities, counties or states filed a lawsuit against gun makers from the late 1990s onward using a similar theory to successful suits against tobacco firms, but they all ran aground

By Mike McIntire and Michael Luo  /  NY Times News Service

Only one major company, Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest handgun manufacturer, broke ranks. In 2000, it agreed to settle the litigation and it adopted a number of far-reaching changes, including promising to design a handgun that could not be operated by children, and forbidding its dealers and distributors from selling at gun shows unless background checks were conducted on all sales.

Smith & Wesson’s sales quickly plummeted amid an industry backlash. Documents produced through the discovery process in the municipal suits show other gun makers seeking to isolate the company.

A letter from Dwight van Brunt, an executive at Kimber America, a gun maker, to top officials at a firearms industry trade group urged them to confer with the NRA and “boycott Smith now and forever. Run them out of the country.”

“You guys need to make sure that no one else is going to join the surrender,” Van Brunt wrote.

None did.

When a new company bought Smith & Wesson in 2001, executives distanced themselves from the arrangement, which had never been enforced. The company resumed its place in trade groups such as the shooting sports foundation.

“It was important that we be an active part of the industry again,” Robert Scott, the new chief executive of Smith & Wesson, said in a 2002 deposition.

Last year, Smith & Wesson was inducted by the NRA into its “Golden Ring of Freedom” circle of donors, reserved for patrons who have given a million dollars or more to the group, another milestone in the company’s long journey back.

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