Smith and Wesson takes positive step

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Gun manufacturers have come under increasing pressure to develop measures aimed at improving gun safety. In fact, the Clinton administration, along with some states, have threatened to bring a national lawsuit against those companies unless they take such steps.

So it was major news when the nation's largest gun manufacturer recently announced unprecedented steps to include safety locks and child-resistant features on its guns within a year. Some see the move by Smith and Wesson as a pre-emptive strike, as it won an agreement from federal, state and local governments to dismiss pending lawsuits and stop future ones.

We see it as a smart business decision and one made in response to safety concerns from governments and consumer groups. We hope it also ends this litigation mentality that manufacturers are always to blame.

Yes, those who build faulty products or knowingly sell to those whose intent is to use the product in criminal activity should be punished. But to constantly blame a manufacturer on how their product is used is wrong.

If we continue in this vein, where will it end? Are we going to sue the manufacturer of the Louisville Slugger simply because someone used it to beat up someone else? Are we going to start suing knife companies if someone gets stabbed?

The facts are that people kill people; not guns. And the right to bear arms is one of the fundamental guarantees of our Constitution. Smith and Wesson's actions, according to Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, are ``an impressive array of safety features . . . that will prevent once and for all accidental gun deaths and keep children safe.'' And that's the key point.

The company agreed to several new safety features, including external locking devices within 60 days; internal locking devices within 24 months; a hidden serial number to counter criminals; and new design changes to ensure they cannot be operated by children. The company also agreed to a code of conduct that it will only sell to authorized dealers and distributors. Any dealer could lose their contract if a ``disproportionate number'' of crimes were traced to the weapons it sells.

These are responsible actions taken by Smith and Wesson and yet allow the company to continue to sell its product.

As a company spokesman put it, ``The effect of this agreement will mean a change in the way Smith and Wesson does business. It will not sacrifice the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, something we will not do.''

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