NRA Members Shun Smith & Wesson

Friday, May 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Smith & Wesson got a mixed reception as the National Rifle Association opened its annual convention Friday, with some people shunning the gun maker's exhibit because it made a deal with the government to put childproof locks on its pistols.

``I think it's important for the people of this country to stand by their Second Amendment rights,'' said Diane Peroutka, checking out a display at the Charlotte Convention Center with her three children.

She said she would avoid the Smith & Wesson exhibit, where more than 100 handguns were displayed.

Others said that while they disagreed with Smith & Wesson's action, they still would buy its guns.

Several thousand people milled around the hundreds of exhibits by gun makers, hunter associations and collectors at the start of the NRA's 129th annual convention. It runs for four days, culminating in the expected re-election of Charleton Heston to a third term as president Monday.

``This will be the most important meetings in our history,'' Heston said in a taped message to the gathering. ``We are about to have the most important election in this organization's history.

``Our gun rights are truly in peril,'' he said. ``When the sun comes up on Nov. 8, who wins the election will determine our freedoms into the next century.''

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre described the group's plan to open a megastore in New York City's Times Square that would contain retail space, a restaurant and virtual shooting ranges.

``It will be a place where NRA members can come to be proud of who they are,'' he said, adding that no lease has been signed and no opening date set. ``Times Square is an American institution. I can't think of a better place for a celebration of the Second Amendment.''

At the Smith & Wesson exhibit, spokesman Ken Jorgenson said the Springfield, Mass., gun manufacturer expected to hear from NRA members about its agreement with the government in March.

The nation's largest gun maker announced it would install locks on its guns to safeguard them from children, introduce ``smart gun'' technology within three years and prohibit the sale of its weapons at gun shows without a background check.

NRA leaders and other gun makers sharply criticized Smith & Wesson but said the company still was welcome at its convention.

``Some manufacturers aren't happy,'' Jorgenson said. ``But we're still talking. We're a small industry.''

As he looked over a display of Smith & Wesson guns, Jim Davis of LaGrange, Ga., said he disagreed with the gun maker's decision on gun locks, but still would buy its pistols.

``I was not shocked, but I was surprised when they caved in,'' he said. Davis said he believed Smith & Wesson was compelled to act to avoid lawsuits that would jeopardize its future.

``I still believe in Smith & Wesson, but politics is politics,'' Davis said.

In return for agreeing to the gun locks, smart technology and background checks, Smith & Wesson will be the preferred gun retailer for law enforcement officials in 190 U.S. communities.

Seven other gun makers and an industry group have challenged that arrangement with a federal lawsuit alleging an illegal conspiracy to retrain trade.