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Smith & Wesson Plays It Safe

President Clinton Friday dubbed gun maker Smith & Wesson's decision to institute a series of gun safety measures rather than face a lawsuit by the federal government a "landmark agreement."

"It took a lot of courage," the president said. "This agreement shows we can get so much done when we find the courage to find common ground."

"There are responsible people in the gun industry," Clinton added. "I would hope the other manufacturers would follow suit."

The Clinton administration announced earlier that it is dropping the threat of joining a class action lawsuit filed by the nation's housing authorities against Smith & Wesson.

Administration sources say the threat of legal action was dropped after the company agreed to institute a series of safety measures, including installing child trigger locks, lower-capacity ammunition clips and so-called smart-technology, which prevents anyone but the owner of a particular gun from firing it.

"A key member of the industry has decided to set a powerful example of responsibility," Clinton said. "For the very first time, a gun manufacturer has agreed to change the way guns are developed, distributed and marketed."

Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, at a midday news conference, told reporters "this is the most important announcement" during his time in Mr. Clinton's Cabinet.

"We've heard the statistics many times. ... A rate of firearm deaths for children in this country 12 times higher than the other 25 industrialized countries combined," he said. "So we approached the process in the belief that reasonable gun manufacturers could sit down ... to stop the senseless gun violence. ... We have reached a settlement with ... the nation's largest gun manufacturer."

He added, "It mandates ... an impressive array of safety features ... that will prevent once and for all accidental gun deaths and keep children safe."

In exchange, Smith & Wesson won an agreement from the government to dismiss pending suits against it, and to refrain from filing new suits.

Smith & Wesson President Ed Shultz said the deal provides for "the future viability" of the company while allowing it to "make our guns better and safer in the future."

The agreement provides for a number of new safety and design standards. Among them:

  • External locking devices must be included in all the company's handguns within 60 days.

  • There must be internal locking device on all guns within 24 months.

  • A second "hidden" serial number must be provided by the manufacturer to counter criminals who obliterate serial numbers.

  • Within 12 months, handguns must be designed "so they cannot be readily operated by a child under six."
Smith & Wesson also agreed to a "code of conduct for the sale and distribution of handguns. It will sell those guns only to "authorized dealers and distributors" who would also agree to certain conditions.

"I applaud their decision to do right by their company and their country," the President said. "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 safer without infringing on anyone's rights."

The president was joined by state attorney generals Elliot Spitzer of New York and Joseph Blumenthal of Connecticut and the mayors of Miami and Atlanta.

He said would deliver telephone congratulations later on to others leading the legal effort to hold gun makers liable for gun violence, including the mayors of Detroit and St. Louis, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn.

Clinton said Friday's development was part of his administration's overall strategy to reduce gun violence, which has included both legislative action and an executive action to crack down on gun sellers.

Gun control has been a major issue in recent days as the White House and the National Rifle Association have exchanged salvos over the matter.

The war of words began on Sunday when NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said he believed President Clinton tolerated gun violence to exploit it for political gain. The White House has angrily rejected the charge and is pursuing efforts at greater gun control.

Mr. Clinton wants Congress to forge compromise legislation to reconcile a Senate bill passed in 1999 with a less stringent House of Representatives version.

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