Smith, Wesson, and Faust
by Ari Armstrong, March 18, 2000
Faust sold his soul to the Devil for money and power. Firearms manufacturer Smith&Wesson has made a similar move, making an agreement March 17 with the federal department of Housing and Urban Development and with state and city governments to severely restrict the useability of its firearms and the scope of its sellers' businesses. In exchange, politicians and bureaucrats agreed to stop persecuting Smith&Wesson with "legal" proceedings.
Of course, in the la-la land of contemporary American politics, the agreement was greeted with squeals of glee from the anti-gun lobby and from posturing politicians. Bill Clinton: savior of the children! The Pied Piper is more like it. The agreement is unlikely to impact safety but highly likely to increase criminal victimization (not to mention police-state powers).
After reading articles by the Associated Press, Scripps-Howard, and the Rocky Mountain News, I still didn't understand the full significance of the agreement. But the text of that agreement at the HUD web page (http://www.hud.gov/pressrel/gunagree.html) reveals all the nasty details. The problems are many and severe.
Restrictions on Gun Sellers
As per the agreement, Smith&Wesson must stop selling its guns to licensed gun dealers who fail to conform to the "code of conduct" outlined.
What does this "code of conduct" include?
Dealers cannot sell at gun shows unless those shows require every sale -- even those by private sellers -- to undergo a background check. The agreement reads: "Gun shows: make no gun show sales unless all sales at the gun show are completed only after a background check." Dealers who want to sell at ordinary gun shows, where background checks are not mandated for private sales, will not be able to carry (new) Smith&Wesson products.
Those who deal Smith&Wesson guns are also required to sell only to individuals with certified training. The agreement states: "Safety training for purchasers: transfer firearms only to individuals who have passed certified safety course or exam and demonstrate to purchasers how to use all safety devices and how to load, unload, and safely store the firearm before completing the sale."
Dealers are also prohibited from selling more than one gun at a time to any customer. "Multiple handgun sales: all purchasers of multiple handguns to take only one handgun from the store on the day of sale, at which point a multiple sales report will be filed with ATF. The remainder of the guns can only be collected after 14 days."
Incredibly, dealers are not even permitted to sell common products. "Weapons attractive to criminals: not sell large capacity magazines or semiautomatic assault weapons." That's insane. So-called "large capacity magazines and assault weapons" aren't attractive to criminals: they are purchased by law-abiding citizens for self-defense. But with a bias like that written right into the language, few will have the courage to challenge the implication. It's also worth noting that nobody knows what is an "assault weapon." Federal law is ambiguous, and it conflicts with a myriad of state and city laws. So who's definition of "assault weapon" is going to be enforced? (We'll get to that later.)
"Dumb Gun" Mandates
So called "smart gun" technology is anything but. It requires electronics that can break or lose power. It renders a gun useless if one's hands are dirty or the gun itself is dirty. It also makes it impossible for a friend to use the gun in self-defense against violent criminals. Such technology has limited use at best, and then mostly with law enforcement.
This technology is also expensive. As Yale Professor John Lott has found, civil arms benefit women and the poor disproportionately. That's because women are often assaulted and raped by larger assailants, against whom a firearm is effective, and many poor people live in crime-ridden neighborhoods where the right of self-defense is especially important. "Dumb guns" will create a financial burden for many of these people and expose them to greater risk.
Yet the HUD agreement requires new models of firearms -- and perhaps all firearms -- to eventually carry such technology (among those who are pressured into signing the agreement).
Smart Guns -- Authorized User Technology. Manufacturers commit 2% of annual firearms revenues to the development of authorized user technology. Within 36 months, authorized user technology will be included in all new firearm models, with the exception of curios and collectors' firearms. If top eight manufacturers agree, authorized user technology will be included in all new firearms.
"Large capacity magazines. New firearm designs will not be able to accept large-capacity magazines that were manufactured prior to September 1994." In other words, you better hope only one criminal breaks into your home at a time, that the criminal is not doped up on stimulants, and that you don't miss any shots.
Double Standard for Enforcers
"Law enforcement and military exception. If law enforcement agencies or the military certify the need, exceptions to these requirements may be made. Manufacturers will ask that these guns not be resold to the civilian market."
If high-capacity magazines and so-called "assault" weapons are of no value for self-defense, then why do the police and the ATF agents want them? There's a name for a society in which the law enforcers live by different rules than the citizens: it's called a police state.
Because of government programs which trap many minorities in high-crime areas, minorities benefit disproportionately from the right of self-defense. (This is not conjecture, but rather a conclusion of the detailed statistical work by John Lott.) Yet the government wants to "help" minorities by making it harder for them to defend their lives against violent criminals. The agreement says that Smith&Wesson must "reaffirm [its] policy of not placing advertisements in vicinity of schools, high crime zones, and public housing." But "high crime zones" are precisely where civil arms are needed most.
The Oversight Commission
Perhaps the most egregious provision of the HUD agreement gives power to city bureaucrats and the ATF to enforce the provisions of the agreement.
Oversight Commission will be established and empowered to oversee implementation of the Agreement. The Commission will have five members selected as follows: one by manufacturers; two by city and county parties; one by state parties; one by ATF. The Commission's powers will include the authority to review compliance with the design and safety requirements, review the safety and training program for dealer and distributor employees, review manufacturer actions against dealers or distributors that violate the Agreement or have a disproportionate number of crime gun traces, and require suspension or termination if warranted.
Who gets to decide what an "assault weapon" is? Who gets to decide if a gun passes the required "performance tests?" Who gets to decide if an advertisement is inappropriate? There's enough ambiguity in the HUD agreement to give government pencil-pushers lifetimes of work. The ATF is salivating.
Perhaps my comparison of Smith&Wesson to Faust was unfair -- to Faust. At least Faust got something he wanted in return. Smith&Wesson has signed on to a lifetime of petty harassment.
* * *
Why is it so significant that Smith&Wesson sold out? With the loss of this major company, other gun manufacturers will have a harder time fighting the politically motivated, harassment lawsuits. The more companies that bend, the greater the pressure for the remaining companies to sign the HUD agreement as well.
At that point, Congress won't have to pass any new laws restricting the Second Amendment. The firearms industry will have signed that right away. All dealers who don't comply will face financial hardship and gun shows will fade away. Later, once these practices are common-place, Congress should have an easy time passing mop-up legislation to close any remaining "loopholes."
Is it even worth mentioning that background checks and all federal laws pertaining to firearms are unconstitutional? No, I suppose not. That document is antiquated. Now the rule of ATF agents and petty bureaucrats supersedes the rule of law. Now the firearms industry (those who follow Smith&Wesson) will goose-step to the march of Bill Clinton and federal politicians. It was a free republic; we couldn't keep it.
Smith & Wesson News
March 17, 2000
Smith & Wesson Announces Agreement Impacting Liability
Smith & Wesson has announced that it has signed an agreement with the federal government and many of the cities seeking to hold firearms manufacturers responsible for the violence in American communities. The company stated that these actions are about insuring the viability of Smith & Wesson as an ongoing business entity in the face of the crippling cost of litigation.
"We can let others make choices for us and determine our fate or we can be actively involved in the process and exercise some control," stated company spokesperson Ken Jorgensen. "Our goal in reaching an accord is to continue to sell to the consumer market. It would have been easy to agree to sell to the law enforcement and military communities only, but that has never been an option. The effect of this agreement will mean a change in the way Smith & Wesson does business. It will not sacrifice the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, something we will not do."
We have always stated we are willing to work with anyone serious about addressing the issue of firearms misuse, whether it be criminal, accidental or self inflicted. We have sought a dialogue with various groups in order to separate real issues from rhetoric. This is a continuation of a long-standing tradition to help communities address issues of concern. We will not always agree with the solutions proposed but we can not disregard the concerns, nor can we ignore the opportunities to make a difference when it is in our power to do so."
Smith & Wesson acknowledges this decision will not be popular with everyone. The company noted that there will always be those with no knowledge of the circumstances and no stake in the future of the company. These individuals are not spending millions on lawsuits or seeing their ability to stay in business seriously threatened. Others are willing to sacrifice our company, our employees and our customers for their principles. We will not allow this to happen when we can make choices to prevent it. Smith & Wesson has provided security and safety to the world for a century and a half and we are not abandoning our goals or our obligations.
AGREEMENT BETWEEN SMITH & WESSON AND THE DEPARTMENTS OF THE TREASURY AND HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND STATES
SUMMARY OF TERMS
Preamble: The city, state, county and federal parties agree to dismiss the parties from the pending suits and refrain from filing suits against the manufacturer parties based on an equivalent cause of action.
SAFETY AND DESIGN
All handguns must meet the following safety and design standards:
Second "hidden" serial number, to prevent criminals from obliterating serial numbers.
All pistols must meet the following additional requirements:
Safety device. Positive manually operated safety device.
Law enforcement and military exception. If law enforcement agencies or the military certify the need, exceptions to these requirements may be made. Manufacturers will ask that these guns not be resold to the civilian market.
Warnings about safe storage and handling included with all firearms within six months.
Illegal firearms. Manufacturers will not sell firearms that can readily be converted into fully automatic weapons or that are resistant to fingerprints.
SALES AND DISTRIBUTION
Code of Conduct. The manufacturers will sell only to authorized dealers and distributors and allow their authorized distributors to sell only to authorized dealers. Authorized dealers and distributors will agree to a code of conduct. If manufacturers receive notice of a violation by an authorized dealer or distributor, they will take action against the dealer or distributor, including termination of sales to the dealer or distributor. The Oversight Commission will review such actions and have authority to require termination or suspension if warranted.
The code of conduct will require authorized dealers and distributors to:
Gun shows: make no gun show sales unless all sales at the gun show are completed only after a background check.
Manufacturer commitments. Manufacturers will:
Provide quarterly sales data to ATF.
Corporate responsibility for crime gun traces. If an authorized dealer or distributor has a disproportionate number of crime guns traced to it within three years of sale, the manufacturers will take action, including possible termination or suspension, against the dealer or distributor. The Oversight Commission will review such actions and have authority to require termination or suspension if warranted.
Oversight Commission will be established and empowered to oversee implementation of the Agreement. The Commission will have five members selected as follows: one by manufacturers; two by city and county parties; one by state parties; one by ATF. The CommissionŐs powers will include the authority to review compliance with the design and safety requirements, review the safety and training program for dealer and distributor employees, review manufacturer actions against dealers or distributors that violate the Agreement or have a disproportionate number of crime gun traces, and require suspension or termination if warranted.
Role of ATF. To the extent consistent with law, ATF will work with manufacturers and the Oversight Commission to assist them in meeting obligations under the Agreement. ATF will notify the Oversight Commission of certain violations of the Agreement by distributors and dealers if it uncovers such violations.
Ballistics Imaging. Within six months, if technologically available, manufacturers will fire all firearms before sale and will enter the digital image of the casings in a system compatible with the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network and accessible to ATF. This will enable law enforcement to trace crime guns when only the bullets or casings are recovered.
Access 2000. Manufacturers shall participate in ATFŐs Access 2000 program, which establishes electronic links with ATF and enables high-speed tracing of crime guns.
Legislation. The parties will work together to support legislative efforts to reduce firearm misuse and the development of authorized user technology.
Education trust fund. Upon resolution of all current city, state, and county lawsuits, manufacturers will dedicate 1% of overall firearms revenues to an education trust fund.
Most favored entity. If other manufacturers enter agreements with more expansive design and distribution reforms, and those manufacturers, along with the manufacturer parties to this Agreement, account for fifty percent or more of United States handgun sales, the manufacturer parties to this Agreement will agree to abide by the same reforms.
Enforcement. The Agreement will be entered into and enforceable as a court order and as a contract.