Browning, the Utah-born firearms company, will not bargain with the U.S. government over handgun safety, divorcing itself from the landmark agreement between President Clinton and Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun maker.
"In my estimation, [Smith & Wesson] has been politically drug into giving away their own rights, the rights of everyone in the industry, the rights of licensed gun dealers and the rights of law-abiding gun owners," said Rich Bauter, vice president of firearms marketing for Browning.
"I would think that everybody in the country should be absolutely outraged, at not only Smith & Wesson's steps, but also the U.S. government's steps that have intruded into the legislative process," he said.
Another major firearms manufacturer, Glock Inc., also repudiated the Smith & Wesson deal Tuesday, with officials of the Austrian corporation saying they will not sign a similar voluntary gun-control agreement.
Like Smith & Wesson, Browning is a defendant in a series of lawsuits filed by cities and states -- including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco -- that argues gun manufacturers and dealers have failed to take adequate steps to ensure the firearms they sell are safe.
By agreeing last week to abide by a code of conduct, Smith & Wesson will be released from the pending suits and protected from future litigation.
Utah lawmakers passed a law this month that would prevent similar litigation brought by municipalities in the state.
Among a list of stipulations, Smith & Wesson will require safety and child-resistant locks on all the guns it sells, start developing "smart guns" that can be fired only by their owners, and refuse to distribute guns to gun show dealers who won't agree to complete background checks on potential buyers.
President Clinton called the agreement "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," he said in a statement. "And it says that gun makers can and will make their guns much safer, without infringing on anyone's rights."
While Browning today produces only a small number of handguns, the company has in the past designed and manufactured Winchester rifles and Colt .45 handguns. "Unfortunately a member of our industry, that is owned by an outsider, a foreign country, has caved in to political maneuvering," said Browning's Bauter. "There would be no way that we would make such an agreement."
Although the company was founded by Mormon pioneers and retains offices in Utah, Browning is owned by Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre of Belgium.
Bill Nash, chairman of Utahns Against Gun Violence, wasn't surprised by Browning's criticism.
"It goes along with what we've said all along -- there are more responsible things that manufacturers can do," he said. "As for Browning's decision, I just think it's unfortunate."
James Jay Baker, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, condemned the Smith & Wesson deal. "This is a futile act of craven self-interest," said Baker. "In their rush to liquidate an inconvenient asset, executives at Tomkins PLC are jeopardizing an entire U.S. industry and undermining a constitutionally guaranteed right."
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