Smith & Wesson Redefines Landmark Gun Deal

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The euphoria stemming from the recent Smith & Wesson gun control accord has been doused with a cold shower of reality. Thursday, the gunmaker, which broke ranks with fellow manufacturers to strike a gun safety deal with the federal government, issued a "clarification" of the terms of their agreement, essentially removing the teeth from the groundbreaking deal. While government officials maintain that Smith & Wesson agreed to several initiatives, including restricting sales of the company's products to dealers who followed stringent background check and safety procedures, the company disagrees with that interpretation, dismissing the government's claims.

Smith & Wesson's web site now boasts a flashing button that leads visitors to the text of the agreement, complete with new bullet points that underscore the "real" meaning or ramifications of each clause. Federal lawmakers don't know what hit them: While Smith & Wesson has endured a great deal of industry ire after its conciliatory move, there was little indication the company would back down altogether. Maybe they should have seen it coming: "The confusion between the Smith & Wesson reading of the deal and the government's reading was apparent from the get-go," says TIME national correspondent Edward Barnes. "It just took the company a while to respond to that confusion." And unfortunately for Smith & Wesson, that hesitation may have lost them not only their former allies but also the burgeoning trust of the current administration. "Clearly there's been a lot of friction between Smith & Wesson and the retail stores," says Barnes. And now there's an equally powerful frisson of tension percolating between the feds and the gunmaker; some analysts predict they could end up facing one another as adversaries in a lengthy court battle.