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HUD Secretary says Smith & Wesson could be conspiracy target

March 31, 2000
Web posted at: 4:39 p.m. EST (2139 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Housing and Urban Development has asked the Justice Department to investigate reports of a possible "conspiracy" of gun manufacturers to punish Smith & Wesson for the company's decision to sign an accord to produce safer guns in an effort to avoid government lawsuits.

Local, state and federal government officials who are part of the Communities for Safer Guns Coalition met last week and reported anecdotal evidence that might "suggest a conspiracy among manufacturers to put Smith & Wesson out of business," said HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo at a news conference Friday.

"You can't pressure a company or try to put a company out of business as a conspiracy of other companies," he said.

Justice spokeswoman Gina Talamona confirmed the department is "reviewing the matter."

Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun manufacturer, signed an agreement March 17 to install gun locks and other child-safety devices on all guns, and to introduce "smart-gun" technology in all newly designed handguns. The company also agreed to impose marketing and distribution rules on retailers who carry its wares, as ways to keep guns from children and criminals.

Smith & Wesson also promised to put a hidden, second serial number on handguns to make them easier to trace.

In exchange, the city governments signing the settlement agreed to drop the lawsuits they filed against the company to recover costs associated with gun violence, and the federal government agreed not to file its own lawsuit.

Cuomo said the gun industry and the National Rifle Association were surprised at the settlement, and are "panicked" that tougher safety rules are on the way.

Besides the federal government, Cuomo said the attorneys general in Connecticut, Maryland and New York are looking into the reports as well. The possibility of a boycott was first reported by The New York Times earlier this week.

Cuomo also used the news conference to rally consumer and government support for Smith & Wesson and other manufacturers who may choose to participate in the responsibility standards outlined in the accord.

Nearly 70 jurisdictions have now added the standards to contract specifications when placing bids for police weapons. Cuomo said police sales comprise about 25 to 30 percent of the annual market for new guns.

Smith & Wesson's decision to sign the agreement was criticized by the NRA and other gun groups. Two other gun manufacturers, Browning and Glock Inc., have declined to sign onto the accord.

Glock refused to sign on because the company wanted the right to make its business decisions without any interference from the government, said Paul Jannuzzo, Glock vice president and general counsel.

Browning is a defendant in a number of lawsuits filed by cities and counties on the grounds that gun makers and dealers do not take the necessary precautions to ensure the firearms they sell are safe.

"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 Browning.

 
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