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Smith & Wesson deal decried in gun stores

Friday, March 24, 2000

By Mike Rosenwald, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When Jack Glidden woke up yesterday morning, he decided to take a closer look at the recent deal between Smith & Wesson and the federal government that everyone's been talking about.

He certainly did not like what he found.

"I felt betrayed," said Glidden, 42. "I just feel they did something that was totally wrong."

Glidden, who lives in Waynesburg, Greene County, had had a Smith & Wesson .357-caliber gun on layaway in town at Pat's Sporting Goods, but not anymore. He called the store yesterday and told them to cancel his order. Now he's getting a Ruger.

Glidden's sentiments toward the nation's leading manufacturer of handguns was shared by gun and store owners around the area and across the nation. At Braverman Arms Co. in Wilkinsburg, black ribbons are attached to all the Smith & Wessons in the store, representing "our dissatisfaction with their decision," said Buddy Savage, the owner.

Smith & Wesson and the government announced their deal last Friday. It ended local and federal lawsuits against the company. News media accounts of the deal have focused mainly on only a few provisions: namely, the company's promise to build additional safety locks into new guns, develop guns that can't be operated by children and deny guns to purchasers unless they complete a background check.

But it's the fine print of the deal, now widely available on the Internet and through organizations such as the National Rifle Association, that's irking gun owners and dealers:

Only one handgun can be purchased in a 14-day period.

One can't buy a firearm without passing a safety test.

No one under 18 is permitted to enter the store without an adult.

Dealers can't sell legal semiautomatic rifles and certain ammunition magazines.

These rules apply to all guns in the store, not just Smith & Wessons, according to store owners and a spokesman for the NRA.

In reaction to the deal, Braverman Arms, Pat's Sporting Goods and Ace Sporting Goods, the largest dealers in the area, say they'll discontinue carrying Smith & Wesson products.

"We'll sell our inventory in stock, but we will not come under this new agreement," said Pam Gayarski, the business office manager at Ace Sporting Goods. "I would say we feel betrayed. Our customers are angry about this.

"That company is the king of the hill and for them to sign something like this, it's pretty unbelievable."

Glidden, the man who changed his order, said he understands Smith & Wesson may be "backed into a corner," but he thinks it shouldn't have gone as far as it did.

"I don't think it's fair that Smith & Wesson was maneuvered into this position to begin with," he said. "But they shouldn't have caved in."

He's upset, like the store owners, because he thinks the deal only winds up hurting legitimate gun owners. He is buying the .357 because he's trying to become a deputy with the Fish and Boat Commission. He has other handguns, one for self-defense, another for target practice.

"I think it's fun to go up to the gun club and shoot holes in paper," he said.

Curt Price of Sycamore, Greene County, was shopping in Pat's Sporting Goods yesterday, where the deal was the main topic of conversation between customers and Patrick McAndrews, the store's owner.

"This deal is not going to stop anyone who really wants to do harm to people," McAndrews said. "All this really hurts is law-abiding people who like to go shooting. I don't see this being the answer."

Price said, "We know it's not the answer. Making people responsible for their actions -- that's the answer."

"We're all for safety," McAndrews said. "I don't think anyone who likes to use guns is not in favor of keeping them out of the hands of kids or criminals. I don't mind the trigger locks. Nobody does. But this is just not right. This goes too far."

This time of year is a busy season for gun sales. It turns out, according to McAndrews, that gun owners often use their tax refunds to pick up those new guns they've been eyeing.

Those same gun owners often bemoan the government's attempt to curtail their gun rights.

"But once this word really gets out," McAndrews said, "nobody is going to want to buy a Smith & Wesson. They'll feel cheated, sold out."

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