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The Layman's Guide to the Smith & Wesson Agreement

The Layman’s Guide to the Smith & Wesson Agreement©

By Curt Bolding

Curt Bolding is a 15-year police veteran with experience spanning four jurisdictions in Illinois. Still active in his chosen profession, he currently serves as both a street officer and as a police control and arrest tactics instructor.

By now I expect most of us have experienced the entire range of emotion experienced as a result of Smith & Wesson’s cowardly, self-serving actions in April of 2000. Firearms owners have expressed to me depression, rage, confusion, trepidation, sadness, and most of all, betrayal. Smith & Wesson, long one of the leaders in the firearms industry, was thought to be a mighty oak tree, something we could all depend on. The quality of their firearms is unquestionable. But, succumbing to the pressure put on them by the anti-self-defense movement, that mighty oak proved itself rotten to the core.

“Hope for the best, but plan for the worst” is an old axiom in my profession. It’s one of those little sayings that help keep us alive. As a cop, I always look at the worst case scenario and plan for it. The way things are going, I recommend civilians take up the practice too, because there’s a lot of bad coming down the pike after Smith & Wesson’s act of self-interest. I strongly suggest that readers examine the full text of the agreement, which I found on HUD’s web page (I’ll reserve comment on them for now): http://www.hud.gov/pressrel/gunagree.html. See also Smith & Wesson’s “clarification” on their own page at http://www.smith-wesson.com/misc/agreement.html. Beyond both of these, however, I recommend another site, http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment032100a.html. This is a superb article written by Dave Kopel, Research Director of the Independence Institute. He has done a fabulous job of dissecting the agreement itself. Read his article even if you don’t read the agreement or the clarification.

Here are some of the more foul-smelling worst case scenarios which I see coming from Smith & Wesson’s actions. According to the agreement, “if law enforcement agencies or the military certify the need, exceptions to these requirements may be made. Manufacturers will ask that these guns not be resold to the civilian market.” Kopel translates: “Law enforcement retains the ability to obtain reliable firearms. Since defensive gun use by ordinary people is immoral, it would be better for them to die rather than defend themselves with an effective firearm.” I am outraged by this concept. When I’m working the street, you bet I want a reliable gun. But what infuriates me is that this administration thinks that you, the law-abiding citizen, without whose support I couldn’t do my job, don’t deserve the same thing. This is a clear violation of the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers stated clearly and unquestionably that the purpose of the people’s right to keep and bear arms was to protect themselves from the excesses of the government. I was a civilian before I became a cop, and I’ll be one again when I retire. Let’s not kid ourselves: if there’s something wrong and you call the cops, we all know there’s going to be a time lapse before we get there. Usually in a fairly well populated area, our response time is around three to five minutes, but a hell of a lot can happen in five minutes. The fact is that none of us can expect the cops to come riding in like the cavalry and make the last minute rescue. Much as I wish it could be that way, that’s just not real life. So make no mistake here—Smith and Wesson and the Clinton Administration do not want you to be able to defend yourself or your family.

Personalization technology is the concept of fitting a firearm with a device that will allow the firearm to be fired only by the particular person that it has been configured to recognize. This is an interesting but terribly naïve concept. First of all, nobody’s really sure how they’re going to physically accomplish this. There’s the idea of the technology being able to recognize a fingerprint. Or you might have to wear a special bracelet or ring. Also kicked about is the idea of having a computer chip imbedded in your hand (yeah, right!).

Let’s look at a hypothetical. A typical family prepares for bed. Wally and the Beav are already fast asleep, and Mom and Dad are getting ready for bed. Dad is a responsible citizen who realizes the importance of being capable of defending himself and his family. To that end, he’s taken courses in gun safety and proficiency. He keeps all of his guns in a secure gun vault, except for one that he keeps on the nightstand in a secure lock-box. An average citizen, Dad’s heard about this great idea of having a gun that allows only him to fire it, so he bought one. Having been led to believe this is the safest way to defend his family, this is the weapon he’s chosen to keep in his lock-box in the event of trouble. There’s a sound from downstairs, as of a vase or similar object falling to the floor. “That damn cat,” mutters Dad, who gets up and goes downstairs because now there’s probably a mess. There’s a mess, all right, but it’s not the cat. It’s a 250-pound punk. Mother, hearing a scuffle downstairs, grabs Dad’s gun and frantically rushes to his aid. By now we all anticipate what’s going to happen. This marvel of modern technology doesn’t recognize Mom and the final resolution of this situation is now very much in question.

Assume our hypothetical family survives the above encounter without the house being burglarized (a more appropriate charge would be Home Invasion, a Class X felony in Illinois), Dad being killed or Mother being raped. Now they’d like to spend a quiet day at the local sportsmen’s club with a picnic lunch, a little time on the range, and some fishing. Oops…. Got another problem. If Wally and the Beav want to shoot, they’ll have to have their own guns, because they can’t shoot Dad’s. I don’t know about the rest of you, but a policeman’s salary isn’t enough to afford handguns for everybody in the family. Guess they’ll have to settle for fishing. Of course, if this same skewed logic were applied to that sport, everybody would have to have his or her own fishing poles, too. After all, the only purpose of a fishing pole is to catch fish, right? I wonder if the animal rights people have considered suing the fishing pole manufacturers?

Dad’s got one more problem to think about if he intends to keep this thing. Minor injuries to the hand cause fingerprints to change. One good cut across the inside tip will leave a scar, which can change some of the parts of the print used for identification purposes. I know of criminals who have tried everything from sandpaper to acid on their hands trying to remove their fingerprints. What actually ends up happening is that they now leave a distinctive scarring pattern along what’s left of the print. The guy might as well write his name on his fingertips. But in Dad’s case, one minor accident in the shop and his fingerprint may be changed enough that he’s now got to get the gun reconfigured to his new print. Hope he remembers to get it done before he needs the gun. One good thing that comes from this part of the agreement is that, according to Kopel, the smart technology is supposedly going to be applied only to production of new models, not current production of previously established models.

Magazine disconnectors are little doodads that work like this. Let’s say the magazine falls out of your loaded semi-auto pistol. There’s still a round in the chamber. A magazine disconnector will not allow your firearm to fire the round that’s in the chamber unless the magazine is properly seated. Referring back to the hypothetical home invasion above, let’s say Dad has his gun but can’t bring it to bear before the bad guy is upon him, and now we’ve got a wrestling match going on over the gun (yeah, I hear you guys out there saying “oh, that’d never happen to me,” but that’s crap—it happens to veteran police officers). Somebody inadvertently hits the magazine release button and out goes the mag. You’ve got one round in the chamber. Do you want to be able to fire it or not? If you still think these things are a good idea, look at it this way: If you load your gun, it’s up to you when you squeeze the trigger. Smith and Wesson is telling you that you don’t have the sense to know when to fire your own gun. These are supposed to be available to customers “who desire the feature” and if I were you, I wouldn’t desire it. Some of the thinking that goes along with this feature is that if your gun is taken away from you in Dad’s situation above and the magazine is out, you can go to a backup weapon. If you have one handy. Personally, I’ll gamble on firing that last round.

Chamber load indicators are another brilliant but useless idea. The clarification defines a chamber load indicator as “a feature that allows the operator physically to see the round in the chamber.” Theoretically, it’ll tell you whether or not the gun is loaded at any given time. Unless for some reason it doesn’t work. As Kopel points out, this will also destroy the credibility of one of the most important gun safety teachings ever, namely, to always treat a gun as if it’s loaded. Human nature being what it is, people will start to trust the indicator and not bother to check the weapon, which is just asking for an accidental discharge. We have another axiom in the police world—K.I.S.S. “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” The more complicated you make something, the more potential there is for something to go wrong with it.

Newly manufactured firearms will be engineered not to accept pre-ban magazines, meaning all your old high-capacity magazines manufactured prior to September 1994. Kopel also points out here: “There are many incidents in which defensive gun users have had to fire more than 11 rounds to stop multiple attackers, or even single attackers who are under the influence of drugs.” Law enforcement heartily concurs. There is one hell of a lot of adrenaline pumping in any armed encounter. After a cop has been in a few, our adrenaline levels aren’t as high as during our rookie years. But for the average citizen, who wouldn’t want our job anyway, it’s way up, to say nothing of what the attacker is experiencing. Drugs are very often present. Adrenaline is always present. The entire high-capacity magazine argument is absurd, anyway. Let’s say Scummy Bob is on his way to shoot up the local schoolyard, but he’s banned from having high-capacity magazines by the tireless crusaders for gun control. No problem. Scummy Bob’s carrying three or four extra magazines. Any ham-fisted peasant can reload in less than two seconds with an absolute minimum of practice.

The agreement will provide law enforcement, government regulators, and the Oversight Commission established in this Agreement with access to documents necessary to determine compliance. Dave Kopel’s interpretation is that “in other words, stores that sell S&W guns must surrender their business privacy, and their Fourth Amendment right to insist that government employees obtain a court order before looking at private records.” That doesn’t just mean that this nebulous Oversight Commission will have access to the store’s records, it means that they’ll have access to your records. The store’s records in this case are going to consist of paperwork filled out by and pertaining to you and me. Depending on how the retailer’s record keeping system is set up, this Oversight Commission may be able to take a real good look at every gun you’ve bought there in the past ten years. And so far, I haven’t heard one single thing that regulates what restrictions (if any) are going to be put on this Oversight Commission. The clarification gives us a vague idea of who’s going to be on it initially, but that could easily change at any time after the thing’s set up, and there isn’t a thing in the world that says they have to tell us about it. Finally, they can take that information and start creating whatever kind of database on all of us that they want. If you can’t have mandatory registration, the next best thing is having extensive (and illegal) files on gun owners. On the same subject, the agreement continues: “within six months, if technologically available, manufacturers will fire all firearms before sale and will enter the digital image of the casings in a system compatible with the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network and accessible to ATF. This will enable law enforcement to trace crime guns when only the bullets or casings are recovered.” If you look at it from just the aspect of good faith law enforcement, yeah, that’d be a great tool for cops working a firearm related homicide where there’s no suspect. Unfortunately for all of us, this would be accessible to the ATF, who, by the way, will be on the Oversight Committee. Anybody smelling a rat yet?

Here’s a real beaut: the clarification states that authorized dealers will “require persons under 18 years of age to be accompanied by a parent or guardian when they are in portions of the premises where firearms or ammunition are stocked or sold.” I would have choked on my doughnut from laughter if the whole thing weren’t so pathetic, because they’re serious. Smith & Wesson has betrayed not only the entire firearms industry and the loyal dealers and customers it’s enjoyed for over a century, they have agreed to conditions that they could not possibly hope to enforce. This is the one that’ll really make them a laughing stock. As a police veteran, I have a very clear understanding of what is enforceable and what is not. So how is this going to work? Are the K-mart police going to apprehend the offending youngster and hold him until he can be tried in a Smith & Wesson court? Maybe they’ll put white tape marks on the floor with signs reading “Only 18 and older beyond this point.” No, I’ll tell you what’ll happen. Nothing. There is absolutely no possible way to enforce this. The department stores aren’t going to make themselves laughing stocks and lose their customers over bringing up such an utterly asinine concept to their patrons. And if that’s the case, then the retailer is the one failing to comply with the agreement. So much for Smith & Wesson’s market in those outlets.

Finally, Smith & Wesson firearms will supposedly only be sold to individuals who have passed a certified safety course or exam. So far, there’s been no clarification as to what such a course or exam will entail, who’s going to administer it or how long it’ll be before you have to take another one. How’d you like to have Janet Reno grading your papers on that one?

I myself will never own another Smith & Wesson firearm of any type and I certainly would never carry one on duty. If you hear any of your local police officials singing the praises of Smith and Wesson, see what said official’s rank is. I can guarantee you it’s not a street officer, the guy who actually enforces the law and does his level best to keep everybody safe. No, the police officials who back this agreement are politicians. For those unfamiliar with the term, these are the people who are looking for the BBD (Bigger, Better Deal). Unsatisfied with their current station in life, they intend to be promoted. Which is not to say there’s anything wrong with being promoted, but these guys are going to step on our rights to get there. They couldn’t care less about your self defense. The chiefs or sheriffs who support Smith and Wesson will also be those who go along with any politically correct bandwagon that drives by. Check out their positions on your local concerns for yourselves. Then see if it looks like this guy is using his present job as a stepping stone. You want the truth about what your police are doing and thinking? Ask the street officer.

Smith and Wesson has completely and irrevocably soiled their own mess kit. Any attempt to squirm out of this mess will do nothing but underscore their cowardice and alienate even more people towards them than there are now (if that’s possible). The only course open for gun owners who want to remain gun owners is to completely and totally boycott Smith and Wesson. We have to show everyone what comes of an agreement like this. It has to be a complete and total business failure for anyone who would sign such a thing. If we don’t, somebody else is going to jump on the bandwagon, and more mighty oaks will fall.

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 QUOTES TO REMEMBER
"Secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy ... censorship. When any government, or any church, for that matter, undertakes to say to it's subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,' the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything. You cannot conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him." --Robert A. Heinlein, "Revolt in 2100" (Pg. 68-69, Baen Books paperback edition, 1999 printing)

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