Smith & Wesson agrees to install locks in unprecedented deal
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With AP Photos WX110 and 113
By SONYA ROSS
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - In a deal heralded as a way to save children's lives, gunmaking giant Smith & Wesson agreed Friday to install locks on its weapons to make them more childproof. In exchange, governments would drop lawsuits seeking damages for gun violence.
The agreement, reached after two months of negotiations involving the company, state and local officials and the Clinton administration, establishes an unprecedented "code of conduct" for selling and distributing handguns. President Clinton expressed hope that other gun companies will follow Smith & Wesson's lead.
"A decision to enter this agreement, we realized, would not be popular with everyone," Smith & Wesson President Ed Shultz said in a conference call broadcast at a news conference where the deal was announced. "But we believe … it is the right thing to do."
In a letter posted on its Internet site, Smith & Wesson said that since 1997 it has provided a lock with every weapon shipped and that the weapons are shipped in lockable boxes. The company did not address whether the locks were put onto the guns before shipping.
Clinton declared the agreement an act of "courage and vision" by Smith & Wesson. In a conference call with local officials, he hinted that governments on all levels ought to remember the gun manufacturer when it is time to purchase supplies.
"Smith & Wesson stuck their neck out here," Clinton said. "I think all of us, including the federal government, in our procurement policies - if we are really serious about making America safer - ought to send a clear signal that we appreciate what they did. This is a happy day."
The gun industry greeted the deal with uncertainty, although some companies said they already take safety measures like those to which Smith & Wesson agreed.
"We have supplied trigger locks with all our firearms for almost two years," said Wesley Lang, vice president of marketing at SigArms in Exeter, N.H. The company also plans to soon market a gun with an internal, electronic locking system, Lang said.
Beretta USA, the Maryland-based U.S. division of the Italian gunmaker, didn't have enough details about the agreement to comment on it. "Smith & Wesson didn't advise anybody in the industry, that we know of, about what they were doing, at least not any of the particulars," said spokesman Jeff Reh.
The National Rifle Association declined to comment.
But the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry organization, condemned Smith & Wesson, saying it had "violated a trust with their consumers and with the entire domestic firearms industry" by entering the agreement.
"This is an ill-conceived action on the part of one of the most revered names in the American firearms industry," said Robert Delfay, the foundation's president and chief executive.
John Michael Snyder, of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said Smith & Wesson's decision wouldn't infringe on citizens' rights. At the same time, he said, it would not, by itself, prevent deaths like that of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, shot by a first-grade classmate in Michigan, who found the weapon in the home where he was staying.
"I think politicians have jumped on this issue in an attempt to make political points for themselves," Snyder said. "I don't think it deals with the problem, which is sociological."
Smith & Wesson agreed to include safety locks with all of its handguns and pistols - external locks to be on the weapons in 60 days and internal locks to be installed within two years. New firearms would not be allowed to accept magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Also, Smith & Wesson will devote 2 percent of firearms revenues every year to developing "smart" technology that limits a gun's use to its rightful owner. The gunmaker, in addition, will not advertise or market its products in a way that appeals to juveniles or criminals, such as ads claiming guns are fingerprint-proof.
For their part, federal, state and local governments agreed to dismiss pending suits against Smith & Wesson and refrain from filing new suits. The Clinton administration had been threatening to bring a national lawsuit against the industry if manufacturers failed to enter negotiations aimed at increasing gun safety.
City officials were jubilant.
"It was an excellent concept, a great first step," said New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, whose city filed the first lawsuit in October 1998. "I know that it will save the lives of many children in this nation."
Friday's deal affects only Smith & Wesson, biggest of the eight major gun manufacturers. Also signing the agreement were the states of New York and Connecticut; Dade County, Fla.; and the cities of Atlanta; Berkeley, Calif.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Camden, N.J.; Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Inglewood, Calif.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and St. Louis.
Administration officials said other localities would sign as well. In the meantime, the Clinton administration would continue with its plans for other lawsuits against other gunmakers, said Andrew Cuomo, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The agreement provides for new safety and design standards, including:
-A second "hidden" serial number inside the gun to counter criminals who obliterate visible serial numbers.
-A handgun design that would make it difficult for a child younger than 6 to fire the weapon.
Under the code of conduct, Smith & Wesson would sell its products only to authorized dealers and distributors who would be allowed to sell those firearms at gun shows only if all sellers perform background checks on buyers. A dealer or distributor would have its contract with the manufacturer terminated if "a disproportionate number" of crimes were traced to the weapons it sells.
On the Net:
White House: www.whitehouse.gov
Department of Housing and Urban Development: www.hud.gov /news.html
National Shooting Sports Foundation: www.nssf.org
Smith & Wesson: www.smith-wesson.com