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After taking bullets, Smith & Wesson lives
By Leslie Wayne The New York Times


SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts: It is hard to imagine a company sinking as low as Smith & Wesson, the legendary arms maker that equipped soldiers from the Civil War to Vietnam and, at one time, 98 percent of America's police forces.

Just two years ago, the company's chairman was found to be a convicted felon: He failed to disclose having spent 15 years in jail for armed robbery. U.S. investigators were looking into accounting irregularities, and the company's stock was stuck at $1.50 a share.

Adding to the company's troubles, for nearly a decade all American soldiers have carried Italian-made Berettas, while most police forces long ago switched to handguns from Glock, an Austrian company.

But now, with new owners and a new chief executive, Michael Golden, who once sold power tools for Black & Decker and toilets for Kohler, Smith & Wesson is coming back to life - thanks to an expanding Pentagon budget and growing spending from the Homeland Security Department.

With consumer sales of rifles, shotguns and handguns flat for the past decade, Smith & Wesson is casting its lot with Washington, where it is making headway with a new "Buy America" pitch in Congress and at the Pentagon.

The company recently won contracts to supply pistols to the fledging Afghan security forces, its first Pentagon award in 15 years. Next, it wants to put Smith & Wesson back into the hands of every American soldier - a major contract worth as much as $600 million.

Smith & Wesson was not the only American gun maker whose fortunes had fallen in recent years. Just last month, in nearby New Haven, Connecticut, the Winchester firearms factory, where the "Gun That Won The West" was made for 150 years, closed its doors. Another neighbor, Colt's Manufacturing, is a shadow of its former self and is now known mainly for a single product, the M-16, which it sells to the Pentagon.

But Smith & Wesson fell more dramatically than the others, mainly because of its agreement in 2000 to adopt gun safety measures to settle lawsuits brought by state and federal agencies in the United States. That Clinton-era accord resulted in a boycott by the National Rifle Association and made Smith & Wesson an industry outcast.

The mood in Washington has changed since then, and to the company's advantage. A gun-friendly administration and a new law signed last autumn by President George W. Bush - the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms" act, which shields gun makers from lawsuits - have undercut the anti- gun movement.

Full Story at
http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/04/06/ ... s/guns.php
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