Progress toward controls on gun sales needs to come from many directions - including the arms industry itself. Last Friday's announcement of an agreement between Smith & Wesson and the federal government was cause for hope.
The deal struck by the British-owned company, the largest gunmaker in the US, should serve as a model for other firms inclined to follow suit. Notably, Smith & Wesson agreed to exercise tighter oversight of dealers and distributors. The company's "code of conduct" will demand that dealers complete background checks on gun purchasers no matter how long that takes.
Moreover, dealers can sell the company's wares at gun shows only if all sellers at such shows demand background checks. That addresses the so-called "gun-show loophole" that Congress has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to close.
Gun-safety and gun-tracing measures are also included in the Smith & Wesson agreement. This should decrease the use of guns by criminals and children.
The company is acting under the pressures exerted by lawsuits filed by 30 US cities. The suits are attempting to hold arms manufacturers liable for the costs of gun violence. Whether the legal strategy succeeds or not, gunmakers face huge litigation costs. The Clinton administration has plans to join these suits. Hence the federal government's leverage to cut deals, promising that cooperative manufacturers won't be targeted in court.
The litigation strategy has clearly brought results. But Smith & Wesson's readiness to take some useful steps in no way reduces the responsibility of Congress to make its own contribution to stronger gun control.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society