I’m a fan of Smith & Wesson. I’ve used both the 637CT and the M&P 9C as my primary carry gun at different points, and the M&P 9 is a strong contender for my next “service” pistol. I’ve owned the M&P 15/22, and have given serious thought to other Smith & Wesson products. They make great guns, the kind you pass down from one generation to the next.
That is why it pains me to see the company playing a very dangerous game with their brand, speaking out against gun control efforts on one hand, while refusing outright to consider moving to a more gun-friendly climate.
Smith & Wesson, founded here in 1852 and known for making the “most powerful handgun in the world” wielded by Clint Eastwood as “Dirty Harry,” also pushed its position on Facebook and Twitter. And what it gets back, especially on social media, is a storm of comments from firearms aficionados who want Smith & Wesson to move to their “gun-friendly” states.
“Massachusetts is our home,” said Debney at the company’s sprawling Roosevelt Avenue factory. “All you have to do is look behind you at the hundreds of (computer numerically controlled ) milling machines. They are not going anywhere.”
That manufacturing capacity has grown and will continue to grow, Debney said. Smith & Wesson has grown from 832 jobs in 2007 to 1,5000 today. It’s also invested $41.7 million in new manufacturing equipment. Smith & Wesson also does $63 million a year in business with other companies in the commonwealth.
Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry specifically lobbied gunmakers in Connecticut and New York state to relocate to Texas. Debney said he gets numerous solicitations form states all over the union.
“We are not listening,” he said. “It all happens here.”
But Debney acknowledged that any firearm restrictions would further cement Massachusetts’ reputation as an “anti-gun” state. There could be a consumer backlash against Smith & Wesson similar to the hate which flowed from gun owners after Smith & Wesson cooperated with Clinton-era gun restrictions.
“It almost took down the company,” he said. “We won’t make that mistake again. At the end of the day, shooting is a passionate sport.”
Debney is in an unenviable position, as are all of the manufacturers in Connecticut’s famed “Gun Valley.” Once upon a time, the region respected liberty and freedom. Quite clearly, it no longer does. It hasn’t in some time, and the recent raft of gun laws made that all the more obvious.
This makes the socio-political dance for all the companies in the region a delicate one.
The companies themselves are obviously in support of the Second Amendment, if for no other reason than blatant capitalism. Unfortunately, they live in a part of the country that is more socialist than capitalist, where the companies are reviled by the very governments that greedily siphon away their tax dollars. At the same time, their products are being manufactured for consumers that hate these states and their anti-freedom agendas, and do not wish to support them in any way, shape or form.
If not careful, Debney may find himself facing another Smith & Wesson must die campaign like he did in 2000, and I have my doubts on whether the company could survive a similar boycott organized today. The shooting community is much more “wired” and organized now thanks to social media than it was when the company capitulated to the Clinton Administration, and the company’s detractors have long memories. While many were willing to give the company a second chance, there will be far fewer willing to give the company a third chance if the conventional wisdom turns against the company.
Other companies in the “slave states” (as they are now being called in some circles) are being more cautious in how they publicly address the situation, and more importantly, aren’t carrying the baggage of an earlier and very public betrayal.
I hope that Smith & Wesson has the good sense to be a bit more cautious with its public pronouncements. Committing itself to a state that holds it in contempt is not going to win the company many fans.