March 20, 2000
Gunmaker Smith & Wesson has agreed to install trigger locks on all new U.S. handguns. Ray Suarez leads a discussion on what the company receives in return, after a background report.
RAY SUAREZ: With highly publicized shootings strengthening his hand, the president had renewed his call for stronger gun controls, including mandatory gun safety locks, and more money for research into "smart guns," which can be fired only by adults who own them. A long list of cities and states had filed suits against gun manufacturers under varying interpretations of product liability laws, alleging that if the products-- guns-- were used properly, they caused death and injury. Last week, Smith & Wesson, one of the largest gun manufactures in the US, signed a landmark agreement with the federal government.
SPOKESMAN: Our agreement and compromise, rather than our division and hostility, establishes a new positive relationship. After many false starts, and after much gridlock, we're finally on the road to a safer, more peaceful America.
RAY SUAREZ: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo, became part of this debate when his agency threatened to join forces with more than 3,000 public housing authorities to sue the gun companies. Now HUD has made Smith & Wesson a preferred supplier of weapons to housing police around the country. Smith & Wesson's settlement agrees to oversee retail dealers; curb gun show sales; restrict sales of more than one gun; incorporate low- and high- tech gun locks; and submit to scrutiny of an outside commission. In exchange, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and 12 other cities will drop their lawsuits against Smith & Wesson. And in the past week the Clinton administration, New York and Connecticut have agreed not to name Smith & Wesson in threatened legal actions. President Clinton spoke about the issue at the White House.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: This agreement is a major victory for America's families. It says that gun makers can and will share in the responsibility to keep their products out of the wrong hands. And it says that gun makers can and will make their guns much safer, without infringing on anyone's rights. It has taken courage and vision for Smith & Wesson to be the first manufacturers to negotiate, and I applaud their determination to do right by their company and their country.
RAY SUAREZ: Since the agreement was reached, Austrian gun maker, Glock, seems the most likely to follow suit and accept sweeping restrictions on its business practices in exchange for protection from government lawsuits. Paul Jannuzzo, vice president and general counsel of Glock's division based in Georgia, said the decision will be made this week. "We're in a cost-benefit analysis to see whether we'll be staying in business, whether we will totally bleed to death from legal bills as the result of this blackmail, or be accepting the conditions imposed on us, on the dealers and consumers for the .5 percent of the guns out there that go bad.
RAY SUAREZ: And another large foreign maker, Brazil's Forjas Taurus, has also indicated that it may consider some sort of settlement.
|Outlining the agreement|
RAY SUAREZ: Now three views of this latest turn in the gun control debate. Ed Shultz is the president and chief executive officer of Smith & Wesson. Robert Delfay is the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association that represents gun manufacturers and distributors. And former Maryland Congressman Michael Barnes is the president and chief executive officer of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, and Handgun Control, Incorporated. Ed Shultz, let's begin with you. In addition to the bulleted points and the very heavily covered points about gun locks and smart guns, there's a lot in this agreement. Why don't you talk about some of the other points in it.
ED SHULTZ, President & CEO, Smith & Wesson: Well, the agreement is an agreement that covers a number of things that Smith & Wesson has done for a number of years, a number of things that we are currently doing and still more than that we are willing to do as we go forward. It covers some design issues, locks on the guns, internal locks as well as more development of smart gun technology. And it talks about a couple of things we do currently with our distributors and dealers and some things that we can do to further enhance our code of business practices we have with our dealers today.
RAY SUAREZ: Any of it a radical departure from your relationship as it had already stood with the ATF or other agencies?
ED SHULTZ: We've had a great relationship with the ATF. We work closely with them in their tracing activities as well as other law-enforcement activities they do. And we continue to cooperate and expect to continue to cooperate with them as we go forward.
RAY SUAREZ: Robert Delfay, since the agreement was signed, you've been quoted in many places as being highly critical of it. What are your big gripes with it?
ROBERT DELFAY, National Shooting Sports Foundation: Well, there are several things wrong with the agreement. First of all is the starting point -- the premise of the agreement was to seek an end to 30 politically motivated lawsuits that have no basis in law.
And so any compromise or settlement based on these bad lawsuits cannot be a good settlement. Second, it sends a message that if government-- whether it's the White House or 30 mayors or a group of lawyers-- don't like the way something is being done in this country, all they need to do is file enough lawsuits, and a manufacturer or an industry will have little choice but to knuckle under or to go bankrupt in order to give these people what they're looking for. And a third thing-- and perhaps the worst message it sends-- is that in this case, Smith & Wesson is the only manufacturer that cares about producing safe firearms or cares about reducing the criminal use of firearms in this country. That is absolutely wrong. As Mr. Shultz knows, this industry is dedicated to safety, has a long history of supporting safety, which is a primary reason while firearms accidents in this nation today are at their lowest points according to the National Safety Council since 1906. That's due to industry education programs. That's not due to settlements that are a result of blackmail by the Clinton-Gore administration.
RAY SUAREZ: But you heard Mr. Shultz say that a lot of what was in the agreement are things that his company and probably many other companies are already doing. Why not get recognition for them and at the same time make the lawsuits go away? Isn't that just good business?
ROBERT DELFAY: Well, time will tell whether it's good business or not. Again the perception is left with the American people is that Smith & Wesson is the only company that's doing these things. One of the provisions of the agreement is putting locking devices on handguns. 95 percent of all handguns in this nation are currently shipped with locking devices. Every major manufacturer has been doing it for years. The largest handgun manufacturer has been doing it for more than ten years. Again, that is why accidents are at their lowest level in decades, down 45 percent in the last 15 years alone.
RAY SUAREZ: Michael Barnes, when you line the agreement up with Handgun Control Incorporated's checklist, how does it look? What do you like about it?
MICHAEL BARNES, Center to Prevent Handgun Violence: Well, we like that there's a recognition on the part of a major manufacturer that the manufacturers do, in fact, have some significant responsibility for the epidemic of gun violence in this country. As you know, Ray, we lose a Columbine class of children -- every day 12 children in America die from handgun violence, and America is fed up with this. People are sick of it. They want action. Smith & Wesson and Mr. Shultz and his company are to be commended for recognizing that it is necessary to take some steps-- steps beyond what they've done in the past, steps beyond what the current law requires, in order to help deal with this tragic thing that our country faces every day.
We're having a big fight right now here in Washington. As you know, it's been covered on this program, the Congress has refused to even hold a meeting of the Conference Committee to consider whether to close the so-called gun show loophole. Currently it is not required that background checks be conducted by everybody that... on everybody that purchases a gun at a gun show in the United States -- and there are hundreds if not thousands of these gun shows and tens of thousands of weapons sold at them. And Smith & Wesson will now require that at the gun shows where its guns are sold there be background checks on everyone who purchases a gun not only their own but from other manufacturers as well. We've been told repeatedly by the gun lobby, by the NRA and others, that this was impossible, it would shut down gun shows and put manufacturers out of business, et cetera. Well, now we know because one responsible gun manufacturer has indicated they can do that, that in fact that was not the case. This is a good first step. We want a lot more. America demands a lot more from the industry, not only from the manufacturers but from the dealers, from the people who sell guns around the country.
There are really three things that ought to be done: We ought to license everyone before they get a gun. This is a good step toward that because Smith & Wesson has said that they will require that people have a safety... pass a safety test before they were able to purchase a Smith & Wesson weapon. And that's a very good step. It's a step in the right direction toward everyone getting a license before they have a gun to show that they know how to operate one. I served in the US Marine Corps; before the Marines ever let me fire a weapon they made sure that I had spent days and days learning how to use it before I was allowed to touch one of them.
The next thing we need is registration of the weapons and ballistic testing of them so that the police can trace them and find the criminals when guns are used in crimes. And the final thing we need-- and this is a step in the right direction with respect to this as well-- is obviously regulation of the industry. This is the only product in America that is not regulated, for example, by the Consumer Product Safety Commission or by other federal agencies. Water pistols are regulated by the federal government. There are certain standards with respect to water pistols but there are no standards with respect to the handguns that are killing of over 30,000 people in the United States last year.
|The business of selling guns|
RAY SUAREZ: Ed Shultz, are there items contained in that agreement that it will be very difficult for your company to check on - on whether they're being followed through on, that really have to do with other links in the chain between manufacturer and final purchaser of the gun?
ED SHULTZ: Well, certainly Smith & Wesson can only recommend and ask its dealers to accomplish certain things. And in spite of what was just said, we are only able to ask those dealers that sell our guns to do those things. We have no ability to ask a dealer or distributor-- whether they be in a private business or at a gun show-- to supervise other dealers or other gun manufacturers' products. Only ours are part of the agreement.
RAY SUAREZ: So when it comes to provisions like, when guns can leave the store, is this just something you do on trust or something that you can actually police, oversee, in your network of dealers?
ED SHULTZ: Well, let's remember that the dealers that are Smith & Wesson dealers today do most of these things already, practically all of them, and they are not being given credit for the fact that they run a very legitimate business and they're very careful about how those products are sold and who they sell them to.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Delfay, when you talk to your other member manufacturers, does this put a great burden on them to come to the table as well, or can they continue much the way that in the tobacco industry, Ligett sort of went off on its own, can they continue and go on their own agenda without the big player here, Smith & Wesson?
ROBERT DELFAY: Well, yes, absolutely, they can continue to go in their own direction, which is to continue to meet in a unified fashion to try to reach a national accord on some of these issues. We have met with the same people that Mr. Shultz has met with. Some of the meetings have been better than others. Where they fall down is when we begin to ask these people what they are going to do to impact gun violence in this country. 4 percent of the problem we're talking about is firearm safety and firearms accidents. That is something the industry can impact and is impacting. 96 percent of the problem is the criminal use of firearms. That's what our elected officials have to do something about when we discuss with them what will you do? Will you implement Project Exile in your community? Will you help us with our Project Home Safe that will put one million locking devices in the hands of inner-city people in the next three years? We get blank stares and we get no response. And, unfortunately, that's why our negotiations seem to have broken down. And Mr. Shultz went off and did his own deal.
RAY SUAREZ: But in doing his own deal, did he make it harder for other manufacturers to continue to fight those lawsuits which haven't been dropped against them?
ROBERT DELFAY: I'm not really sure he has. Now, time will tell what's going to happen, whether there are additional lawsuits. I believe six lawsuits have so far been decided. Four of those have been decided in favor of the industry. We expect the vast majority of the new suits will be filed -- will be decided in favor of the industry because these suits have no basis in law. You cannot say that it's Smith & Wesson's fault or any other manufacturers' fault when a non-defective firearm is used in a crime in some inner city five years or ten years and 2,000 miles away from when it was made.
RAY SUAREZ: You heard Mr. Delfay just then, Michael Barnes. How do you test those assertions? Now that you've got the largest single manufacturer entering into this kind of regime-- you've encouraged it. You've said it's a good first step-- what kind of time do you need? What kind of things do you need to watch to see whether it makes any difference?
MICHAEL BARNES: Well, it will make a difference if, in fact, Smith & Wesson is able to get its dealers in the gun shows where it sells its guns to behave differently than they have in the past. We'll be able to monitor that and see whether it works because there's going to be an authority established pursuant to this agreement to oversee the operation of it.
With respect to the lawsuits, it's our organization -- the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence -- that is representing 24 of the 30 cities and counties around the United States that are suing the gun manufacturers. And I would just say that Mr. Delfay says that these lawsuits are baseless. The courts are not agreeing with that. So far we're winning. We won last week two important victories, one in Louisiana and one in Cleveland, and we'll be going to discovery with respect to these cases and be able to find out from the documentation of the companies involved and exactly what their practices have been and how these practices endanger the American people because that's what this is all about. We are not in these lawsuits, this is not like the tobacco lawsuits. We are not seeking monetary damages.
What we are after here is changes in the way the gun manufacturers, the distributors, the retailers do business. We want to get... we want to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals and children. Thousands of people are dying, tens of thousands of people are dying every year in the United States because of this current system that we have. It's insane. No other civilized country in the world allows people to have the easy access to handguns that we have in this country. It is possible to do something about it. Every other country has figured out how to do it. We know what the answers are. All it takes is politicians who have the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and do what's necessary.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you very much.