Smith & Wesson is currently the largest gun manufacturer in the United States in terms of domestic production, and it’s also one of the country’s oldest. Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson partnered in 1852 and began developing lever-action rifles and eventually revolvers. The company’s ownership has changed hands several times in the intervening years, however, and today it produces handguns, rifles, and even shotguns. It’s also one of the country’s two publicly traded gun makers, with over $800 million in revenue in 2022. But instead of setting an example for other gun makers, the company has contributed to the gun industry’s dangerous reputation.
Smith & Wesson’s M&P-branded AR-15s have been used in several mass shootings, including in Aurora, San Bernardino, Parkland, Poway, and Highland Park. Kyle Rittenhouse also used one to deadly effect in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the Uvalde shooter left one in his vehicle before he entered Robb Elementary School to carry out his attack.
In addition, the company offers “state-compliant” versions of its AR-15s that are slightly modified to remain legal under select states’ assault weapons bans but can be just as deadly. For example, the Poway shooter allegedly purchased the M&P15 that he used to carry out his attack in California.
Smith & Wesson appears to market AR-15s to minors with advertisements and social media posts that look like first-person-shooter video games and depict children handling firearms like the M&P15-22, a .22-caliber AR-15 designed to get new shooters used to the platform.
The company also shows military and police personnel using Smith & Wesson products in its ads, though the company does not have any current U.S. military contracts.
Smith & Wesson admitted that it did not “monitor or track” crimes or deaths caused by its products, in particular AR-15s, to the House Oversight Committee. The company’s CEO also refused to appear before the committee, which he claimed was attacking the Second Amendment, and answer for the company’s conduct in front of the public.
Smith & Wesson firearms are also popular among criminals. In data collected by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund from police departments in 31 cities, Smith & Wesson was the second-leading manufacturer of recovered crime guns in 2021 with 6,728 recovered firearms.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also found that between 2017 and 2021, Smith & Wesson was the second-leading manufacturer of traced crime pistols and the top manufacturer of traced crime revolvers, representing 14 and 25.7 percent of all recoveries in those categories, respectively.
Smith & Wesson agreed to reform its business practices but broke its promises. In March 2000, the company struck a deal with the Clinton administration, agreeing to implement a dealer “code of conduct,” keep better track of its inventory, refuse to sell firearms at gun shows where background checks aren’t conducted, and develop smart guns, among several other safety initiatives. However, after facing a nationwide boycott instigated by the gun lobby, the company almost went bankrupt and was sold to new owners. After a few years, the company reneged on the terms of the agreement.
Since reneging on the promises it negotiated with the Clinton administration 23 years ago, Smith & Wesson does not appear to have adopted strong measures to secure its supply chain and prevent its products from entering the illegal market. In a 2019 report, Smith & Wesson emphasized the role of federal, state, and local regulations “as a risk mitigation factor” and that provisions in its contracts with distributors “reduce the risk that [its] firearms will be misused.” But the company’s 2018 “Authorized Dealer” application form does not require its dealers and distributors to secure their firearms, flag questionable customers, or report the results of ATF compliance inspections and crime gun trace requests. And a review of Smith & Wesson’s online “dealer locator” also found that it includes dealers linked to previous reports of gun trafficking.2See City of Chicago v. Westforth Sports Inc., https://everytownlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2021/04/Westforth-Complaint-Stamped.pdf.
Considering the lack of legislative or regulatory action in this regard, gun manufacturers should, at a minimum, adopt stronger public codes of conduct to hold their distributors and dealers accountable in securing supply chains.
Smith & Wesson is a publicly traded company, but when shareholders confronted it about its role in the gun violence epidemic, those concerns were dismissed. In 2018, shareholders voted for a proposal requiring that Smith & Wesson issue a report on how it tracked and disclosed information related to its products’ use in crimes. In its response, Smith & Wesson asserted that most of the public, its business partners, customers, and end users “understand that the manufacturer of a firearm is not responsible in any way for its illegal misuse.” More recently, in 2021, a group of nuns attempted to get the company to adopt a human rights policy through a shareholder referendum “to make the business, the products and the consumers who buy them safer,” but when it did not receive enough votes, the company called the attempt “disingenuous, politically motivated, and…not in the best interests of our company.”
Smith & Wesson promotes retailers who offer “shoot now, pay later” financing. Selecting “Buy Now” on the company’s website provides prospective buyers with links to three online retailers, including Guns.com, which offers financing through Credova, and Gearfire, which has its own financing program. Buyers may not even need to make their first payment for 30 days.
Smith & Wesson is a leading industry supporter of the NRA. The company is ranked third on the NRA’s list of “Top 10 Industry Allies,” meaning it sponsors NRA events, donates guns for Friends of NRA raffles, and helps recruit new members. It even offers discounted NRA memberships as an official recruiter and sells discounted gear to NRA members. In 2012, Smith & Wesson joined the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom” for donating over $1 million to the NRA.