(CNSNews.com) -- The president of gun maker Smith & Wesson now acknowledges that a "consumer boycott" over the company's agreement with the Clinton-Gore Administration is hurting the company and was a factor in his decision to suspend virtually all manufacturing at two plants during the month of July. The suspension is expected to result in the layoffs of as many as 400 of the 800 employees in Springfield, Massachusetts and Houlton, Maine.
Threatened with dozens of potential lawsuits from governments trying to recoup financial losses from gun-related violence, Smith & Wesson struck the controversial deal with the White House in March.
In exchange for immunity from the lawsuits, Smith & Wesson promised that its future weapons would be manufactured with trigger locks and smart-gun technology such as the so-called "ballistic fingerprints", which make it easier for law enforcement agencies to figure out which bullet was fired from which gun and biometric identification, which allows only the owner of the gun to fire the weapon. S & W also promised background checks would be imposed at the retail outlets where their guns were sold and at gun shows.
S & W president Ed Shultz responded to questions during a telephone message he left for CNSNews.com. Repeated efforts to get additional comments from Shultz were unsuccessful. However, in the phone message, Shultz laid blame for the layoffs and the decision to suspend production on seasonally lower gun sales. He also noted the company has probably been hurt by a boycott of gun buyers and Second Amendment advocates, angry at the agreement the company reached with the White House. Shultz acknowledged losing some former customers and accused the media of making too much of that.
During a previous interview, Shultz insisted the company had little choice but to sign the agreement, or risk the possibility of being put out of business by a growing number of lawsuits brought by cities, counties and states, angered over gun safety issues.
While Shultz downplayed the importance of the agreement in terms of slower sales, other gun advocates did not.
"I can't say for certain that it's a boycott and I see no response on the part of the rest of the industry. However, we've received hundreds of e-mails...scores and scores...in opposition to the agreement and I believe Smith & Wesson has gotten the same thing," said Bob Delfay of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a Connecticut-based industry organization with 1,800 members involved in the manufacturing, distribution and retailing of weapons.
Any effort by the gun industry to organize and promote a consumer boycott against Smith & Wesson could result in a Department of Justice investigation and the filing of charges against participants, as a violation of the nation's anti-trust laws.
Delfay provided examples of the e-mails, all of which faulted the company for its decision to enter into the agreement with the government. A retired U.S. Navy Special Operations officer characterized the agreement as a "betrayal by S&W" and as a "sham on the people who believe in the right to bear arms." The writer added, "It's an affront to the drafters of the Constitution and all those who gave their lives or continue to serve in our armed forces...it's a phony attempt to keep their business going while drawing favorable political light on themselves...I say good riddance to S&W and hope no one will ever buy a weapon they make."
Another e-mail writer characterized the agreement as a "sell out decision by Smith & Wesson," and added, "Immediately following the deal announcement, I mailed a letter to the S&W CEO stating that I planned to boycott the company and I would encourage my family and friends to do the same."
In an April 6th e-mail, sent directly to Shultz, a copy of which was sent to Delfay, a female writer said the agreement has forced her "to vote with my dollars. Therefore, I will buy no more S&W products of any kind, nor will I support advertisers and dealers of your products." The writer added, she was "exercising my options in a free market economy to support financially and politically those in agreement with my personal values. Hence, please do not include this communication as 'evidence' of any organized conspiracy or anti-trust activity against your company. I'm just one more supporter of the 2nd Amendment, who is appalled at your company's political stance."
Larry Pratt, executive director of the Springfield, Virginia-based Gun Owners of America, told CNSNews a consumer boycott of the company "is something we have urged." Urging Smith & Wesson to "repudiate the agreement," Pratt added the pact has "enormous implications for dealers."
"Smith & Wesson is continuing to be isolated. They depend on the civilian market for sales...the government can't turn on a dime and buy Smith & Wesson guns on a politically correct basis."
Pratt also accused the Clinton-Gore Administration of "acting like the Mafia...we won't block you, as long as you pay our extortion...so Smith & Wesson blinked. They're now being rewarded by the government with purchases." Pratt also characterized the agreement as "a monstrous introduction of Fascism into the economy, by the Clinton Administration...it's legislation without the legislature...It's an agreement, not a law, so it's not reviewable by the courts."
Asked about the layoff of Smith & Wesson employees, Pratt said he hopes other gun makers would pick them up, should a consumer boycott drive the company out of business, but added, "If it's a question of their jobs, over my freedom, I have no question about where I come down...what's happening is a spontaneous reaction against Smith & Wesson. People just don't want to do business with someone like this. It's very dangerous for our freedom and it's very bad for the dealers."