Smith & Wesson Pulls the Trigger, Makes a Deal

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Guns are hot these days — everyone from the President to Moses (or at least the guy who played him on the big screen) has taken to the airwaves, deploring the most recent shootings and pleading their personal brand of sanity and law enforcement. While the NRA seems to be relishing its provocative role in the current confrontation, taking verbal shots at Clinton and the FBI, its presumptive allies, the gun makers, may be less interested in alienating the government. Friday, Smith & Wesson announced it had struck a deal with the feds; the gun giant agreed to implement safety devices and strict retail guidelines for its handguns, and in exchange, the government pledged to drop the company from any pending lawsuits against gun makers.

Not surprisingly, President Clinton is happy to claim some credit for Smith & Wesson's decision. "The White House is saying the deal was forced in part by their threats to join the existing lawsuits against gun makers," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. Now that the nation's largest gun manufacturer has joined Colt in a deal with the government, will other, smaller gun makers head to Washington as well, ready to cut a bargain? "It's quite possible," says Branegan. This spirit of compromise won't sit well with the NRA, whose position has only grown more stringent over the past few months. " Gun makers have been more amenable to change than the NRA," says Branegan. "They have a business to run, and the NRA doesn't have to worry as much about public relations." And although NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre seems to enjoy his newly visible role as media enforcer, it's hard to predict whether his pleasure will wane if he looks around in the not-too-distant future and notices the NRA has been stranded, alone out in hard-line right field.