What Happened When a Major Gun Company Crossed the NRA

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A firearms retailer examines a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

A firearms retailer examines a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

January 16, 2015

Smith & Wesson, the storied American gun company, is today a proud supporter of the NRA.

In 2012, the company signed on to a four-year sponsorship of one of the NRA’s promotional programs. And its new chief executive, James Debney, was inducted into the NRA’s Golden Ring of Freedom — the highest ranking of donors, reserved for those who donate $1 million or more. It comes with a golden jacket with the NRA insignia on the breast pocket.

In a statement hailing the award, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said: “Smith & Wesson is a valued corporate partner in NRA’s fight to preserve the Second Amendment and we are grateful for their dedication to our shared American values.”

But the relationship wasn’t always so friendly.

In the late ’90s, Smith & Wesson was facing a major lawsuit filed by cities and states that blamed the company for rampant gun violence. The company stood to lose millions. So in 2000, under pressure from the Clinton administration, Smith & Wesson’s chief executive, Ed Schultz, made a fateful decision — and raised the ire of the powerful National Rifle Association and its supporters.

Watch what happened next:


Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

Twitter:

@sarah_childress

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