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Over the years, the gun lobby has fired off some fine slogans:
"Guns don't kill; people do."
"The only sensible gun control is a steady aim."
"These premises protected by Smith & Wesson."
Well, it may be time to strike that last one, at least as it applies to the National Rifle Association.
In a tumultuous week dominated by a firestorm over NRA vice idiot Wayne LaPierre slandering President Bill Clinton as "willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda," the bigger news went almost unnoticed: Public lawsuits against gun manufacturers had bagged their first big bird. Gun giant Smith & Wesson had cut a deal with the government.
Smith & Wesson promised dozens of concessions aimed at keeping guns from children, criminals or both. These included placing mandatory trigger locks on all guns, developing "smart" gun technology to prevent unauthorized use and toughening the code of conduct for gun dealers to deter felons from buying firearms at gun shows.
In exchange, the company was released from liability in lawsuits brought by more than 15 cities (including a scantily publicized one last April by St. Louis) and others seeking to hold manufacturers legally responsible for violence caused by their weapons. The lawsuit approach, modeled after the siege on big tobacco, began just a year-and-a-half ago.It's too early to know whether the deal is really as good for the gun-plagued public as it is for the gun manufacturer -- after all, Smith & Wesson didn't settle out of the goodness of its heart -- but it was still enjoyable to watch the NRA fumble with the embarrassment of a defection in its ranks. After an initial stunned silence -- the news hit the NRA while it was engrossed in an around-the-clock rescue operation attempting to remove LaPierre's foot from his mouth -- the organization finally got around to blasting its erstwhile gun-lobby pals for "a futile act of self-interest."
"Smith & Wesson has promised away not only its own rights but those of licensed gun dealers and law-abiding gun owners," NRA chief lobbyist James Jay Baker said Monday. The group officially urged gun owners to oppose the plan, but on ABC's This Week show Sunday, NRA president Charlton "I really think I'm Moses" Heston declined to call for a Smith & Wesson boycott.
Heston did, however, play to the Pat Buchanan gallery by noting that Smith & Wesson is a British-owned company and that we ought not let the queen "be dictating American policy on firearms."
And Moses spoke: "Smith & Wesson is a fine American name, they're a good company. They're also British owned. I am not comfortable about the Brits telling us how to deal with our Bill of Rights. I think we've settled that in 1776, didn't we?"
Ah, but Heston wisely didn't call for a tea party, not only because an NRA boycott against one of its own isn't going to dent revered Smith & Wesson but also because the manufacturer may not be alone for long. Fellow gun maker Glock Inc. sent out signals to that effect on Tuesday.
"We're carefully reviewing the proposal that Smith & Wesson agreed to, and we're trying to see what our position needs to be," Jim Pledger, national sales manager for Glock, told the Los Angeles Times. "What we need to do is make a good business decision and a good decision related to public policy."
To help the company with its decision-making process, federal and local officials have threatened to organize boycotts of companies that don't follow in Smith & Wesson's footsteps. According to the Times, Glock supplies firearms to 60 percent of America's 15,000 law-enforcement agencies, as well as the military.
The NRA has its own reasons to be concerned. The gun manufacturers are, in effect, recognizing the sovereignty of the government with respect to gun control -- something the NRA would never do -- and that would seem to signal a crack in the gun lobby's resolve to retain a united front of irrationality.
What's more, the news signals that the once-invincible gun lobby continues in a state of retreat, light-years from those glory days when it could swat away even a ban on cop-killer bullets or assault weaponry. Indeed, times are so tough that the NRA is fashioning itself as -- get this -- a gun-control champion anguished over the government's alleged (actually, imagined) failure to enforce existing gun laws.
It's come to this: Heston actually had the audacity on ABC to proclaim that the NRA had authored much of the Brady Bill, one of the most bodacious claims in the history of television but one that was scarcely challenged by stunned interviewers Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. For years, dating back to the mid-'80s, the NRA successfully squashed every version and every component of the Brady Bill, and the organization was only around to "help" write the final version as a last-ditch effort to water it down.
In the same spirit, LaPierre claimed on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday that the NRA had "always supported trigger locks." Why, it even turns out that the NRA's gun-control plate includes "mandatory safety locks with the sale of every gun, instant checks on gun shows done with a 24-hour delay, and violent juveniles (being) prohibited from owning guns."