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The Springfield & Rock River Arms Controversy

I’ve gotten a lot more circumspect since the height of our burning heretic days. After the decline in the national discourse, I’m flat out of enthusiasm for it unless it’s absolutely necessary. I did not wish to enter the debate early, without all the facts.

I do still believe we shouldn’t suffer traitors, and if an organization were to cross us, like I believe the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association did, the torches and pitchforks should rightly descend upon them. As it is, both Springfield Armory and Rock River Arms both claim they were not aware of IMFA’s actions, and essentially killed the group. Do I believe it? I’ll be honest, I’m skeptical that the two organizations that seem to be its primary funders didn’t have contact with their lobbyists on a critical bill. But I have no proof that their claim isn’t true. Additionally, they’ve put the heads of those directly responsible on a platter and have presumably learned their lesson. I don’t see any need to burn SA or RRA to the ground over this.

If the bill can be killed somewhere else, which I understand it probably can, I’m OK with snuffing the torches and giving them a chance to show they’ve learned.

29 Responses to “The Springfield & Rock River Arms Controversy”

  1. aerodawg says:

    I take firing people as an admission of “we screwed up, won’t do it again.” If you’re willing to go down that path I say no harm no foul

  2. Dannytheman says:

    Maybe I can get a job at one of them and help guide their decisions and future.

    Who knows someone there?

  3. Whetherman says:

    The linked bearingarms.com column opens, “Second Amendment supporters are a pretty dedicated lot so you’d think the 1994 Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger sellout to the Clinton Administration would continue to be a warning to all firearm manufacturers.”

    Those are darn good examples, because who remembers them today? What manufacturers learned from it is that after fifteen minutes of outrage, the gun community has the collective memory of an amoeba, at least in terms of how it will affect their shopping (or voting) behavior. Produce a sexy new handgun or rifle, or advocate “get tough on crime and enforce existing laws” and it’s all good.

    And Ruger makes an especially good example. Not too much more than a year (maybe less than?) after Bill Ruger testified in congress, about how foreign guns that competed with his own should be banned, I read a heartfelt column in an NRA publication that gushed “one thanks God there are men like Bill Ruger.”

    I wonder what happened there?

    • Scott Connors says:

      Both Smith and Wesson and Ruger are under different management from when they were in the Clinton years (aside: am _so_ glad that I don’t need to specify _which_ Clinton! :D )Both companies “got religion” after the crapstorm they encountered playing footsie with the Brady Bunch. Nowadays, far from cutting deals with the antis, both manufacturers have been bringing out what the market wanted: more MSRs and semi-auto handguns, which gives them skin in the game. As for Springfield Armory and Rock River Arms: never bought anything from the latter, but I have owned two SA rifles. Although I basically called them Fredo when this story broke, upon reflection, I think that the lobbyist for the manufacturer probably exceeded their authority, since this was out of character for SA, based upon past behavior.

      • Whetherman says:

        “Both Smith and Wesson and Ruger are under different management from when they were in the Clinton years…”

        How many years passed between 1994 and when those changes in management occurred, and, (sincere question) how did their consumer sales fare during that period?

        I confess that life-experience has taken me in the opposite direction from Sebastian’s circumspection; by which I mean, that I learned the threat of revenge for treachery becomes meaningless, unless the carrying out of that revenge is a certainty. My circumspection is more of the form, don’t imply revenge, because you know that collectively it will never be carried out. And, so do your opponents.

        It’s far from the best metaphor, I guess, but I’m recalling Machiavelli’s observation that sons will forgive the murder of their father, but never the loss of their father’s estate. By which I think I mean, only permanent economic damage will sober those in business, and, we should not be easily bought off by shiny new toys.

        • Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

          how did their consumer sales fare during that period?

          S&W nearly went bankrupt, so I’m guessing not great.

          • Sebastian says:

            S&W nearly going bankrupt was pretty much the event that changed how the industry approaches the gun rights issue. Both Ruger and S&W struggled, but S&W more so.

            Punishment can never be certain, but it’s much more certain today than it was in the 1990s because if there’s one thing social media is extremely good at, it’s whipping up lynch mobs.

          • Whetherman says:

            “S&W nearly went bankrupt, so I’m guessing not great.”

            I’ll confess to not remembering clearly, because handguns have never been my main focus (or even much a peripheral one) but I seem to remember rap from the era to the effect that S&W didn’t care much about civilian sales because their bread and butter was government sales.

            To recast my sincere question, do we have any data on that? Did that claim have any validity at all? What percentage of S&W sales were consumer sales, and what percentage were to police, military, and other government agencies?

            I’ll confess that at the time I tended to accept whatever rap I thought supported the gun rights position, and at the time, it was a bit more difficult to research such things.

            • SPQR says:

              They never saw more government or LEO sales but noticed the drop in civilian and S&W explicitly repudiated the Clinton Era deal under new management. They got the message.

            • Will says:

              Except for those rare occasions like a total replacement handgun sale to the US Army, handgun sales to governments amount to very small potatoes compared to US civilian sales.
              S&W sales totals fell through the floor, and the BRITISH owners sold the company for pennies on the dollar. Essentially, they gave it away. IIRC, they got very embarrassed when the home island found out they owned a weapons manufacturer that sold handguns to the general public.

              I didn’t buy any more S&W or Ruger guns after they got cozy with the .gov, and no one I talked with would admit they had, either. It took Bill Sr’s death before people warmed up to Ruger again. I think the son took over management before that, and made big changes in retail sales rules.

            • Old 1811 says:

              Smith & Wesson was the defendant in 29 mala fide lawsuits at the time, all of which were filed with the assistance of the Clinton Administration. Just litigating the suits, even if they won every one, would have bankrupted the company due to legal fees. The Clinton Administration offered to make all the cases go away. In addition, Smith & Wesson’s owner, the British toilet maker Tompkins, told Smith & Wesson to agree to the Clintons’ deal or Tompkins would close the company.
              When you’re being blackmailed by the government and by your boss, who exactly can you call? How many choices do you have?

            • HSR47 says:

              At the risk of flogging a deceased equine, here’s the TLDR:

              * Ruger and S&W capitulated to the demands of the Clinton administration.

              * The public reacted by turning their collective back on those two companies.

              * Ruger suffered, and S&W nearly went under.

              * S&W was sold off by it’s British owners, and Bill Ruger died. Both companies then repudiated the deals they’d made with the devil.

              * Much of the public stopped hating them, and started buying their products again.

      • Greg Adkins says:

        Management change is a B.S.excuse,since S&W sold out in 2000 to the Clinton administration,no excuse for purchasing their products

        • Sebastian says:

          It wasn’t a management change. They were sold to new owners that had nothing to do with the previous bad decision, and who have been very supportive of gun rights since.

    • Greg Adkins says:

      Agree but it was the Clinton Administration bill in 2000,that (at least)S&W signed on to,buy putting locks on their revolvers,to avoid lawsuits that liberal governers,like Cuomo were going to file against S&W wrongful death suits.I haven’t even looked at the S&W firearms lineup since 2000, and that was worse than Springfield it was federal.Like i’ve said since 2000,anyone who’s bought a S&W product since 2000(is a piece of SHIT)

  4. Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

    I’ve followed the controversy since it started. Most gun owners were understandably pissed, but in the first few days, most also were will willing to give them time to explain. But as the days without comment from RRA dragged on, and with SA’s vague first statement, people got more pissed, and less understanding.

    Then it came out they donated to hard core anti-gun politicians like Madigan. That didn’t help. When they finally came out with a statement, it wasn’t believable, especially since they didn’t dissolve the IMFA. And when that came out, it was so late people had already made up their minds.

    I’m not sure exactly where the truth lies. My take is RRA didn’t understand what was going on. I may be giving them too much credit, but I hear they are working behind the scenes with Illinois firearm groups to stop the passage of the bill in the IL House. That seems to me the right final move. SA I’m not sure about. Seems the lobbyist had close ties to them. But its possible too that they didn’t know.

    I think the biggest issue here is the lack of a meaningful statement for four days. If the day after they were screaming from the hilltops they opposed the bill and needed more time to investigate what happened, people would have been understanding. But they waited way too long, and that looked very suspicious.

    If this bill fails in the House I think they can recover. But if it passes, and it is signed, a lot of people will hold them responsible, even if they didn’t approve the change in opposition.

  5. Jeremiah Weed says:

    I’m all about giving them the benefit of the doubt, but I was rather non-plussed by SA’s “Chill guys. It has only passed half the legislature” response. It makes about as much sense as wearing Shannon Watts’s shirt.

  6. The important issue is defeating the Senate Bill 1657 at the House level. Illinois citizens need to to to the ILGA Dashboard site and file witness slips opposing this bill when it is in Committee, and if it makes it to the Floor of the House, Representatives need to have heard from the voters. Phone numbers and email addresses are easy to find on the Net. People who do not follow the blogs and Facebook posts do not know what is happening, so spreading the word about the bill is of utmost importance. The Illinois Retail Merchants’ Association and Illinois Auctioneers were also in on the deal, but nobody is harping at them. Auctioneers are poised to become unwatched black market dealers if this bill goes through, but not very many have figured that angle yet. Private citizens would be allowed only nine firearm transfers in a year, and that could bite a lot of people; especially recently widowed or unemployed men and women. Call your Rep! File a Witness Slip next week! Worry about what the manufacturers did later on. They are not the important issue right now.

  7. Brad says:

    This whole mess SA finds itself in also demonstrates the wisdom of those gun companies which leave gun-control States for Free America. It isn’t as if this sort of law wasn’t predictable.

    Half the reason I bought a PTR-91 was to reward PTR for leaving Connecticut.

  8. Dave says:

    We gun owners seems o have very simple and selective memories.

    S&W was “boycotted” by Glock fanbois almost exclusively. This dedicated contingent of our community think that Glock can do no wrong, and will loudly trumpet how their Glock has never malfunctioned, even after it chokes in the lane right next to you. Oh that was bad ammo. :=/ [all guns malfunction if you shoot them enough]. This contingent of our community are brand loyalists to a fault and were never going to buy anything S&W sold, or sells and would rationalize any reason to do so. Now, the current Glock fanboi excuse to not buy a S&W is the dreaded “lock”. it’s ugly, it will lock up, malfunction, etc.

    S&W was terribly mismanaged and with a good leadership team that understood the marketplace, could have weather the previously mentioned 15 seconds of gun owner outrage, but fortunately for us S&W management was abysmal. It helps our narrative that they were clumsy at the wheel.

    fast forward to the current brouhaha. Regardless of how we got here, S/A and RRA have disavowed their lobbying group (that they control) and promised to fight the passed bill to it’s defeat.

    What’s the objective of further action against them, if they adhere to their word? Now, if the bill passes and is signed into law, we should definitely revisit this event, but currently, what are we going to ask for? what’s our demand of the 2 principals involved here?

    Outrageous demands will be completely ignored, but it looks to me like they have responded with what we asked for – disavow and oppose the bill, fight it to it’s defeat.

    On supporting or encouraging companies to move, think about this:

    Despite the atrocious political environment, there are actually pro gun people who work for these companies in communist occupied America. You’re basically saying to company leadership – I want you to uproot your company, at your expense, and possibly to the death of the company, and relocate to another state. This either unemploys the current work force, or compels the company to offer relocation, that realistically won’t be accepted by most of the workers. Why?

    Because people have homes, lives, families, maybe can’t leave. maybe their mortgage is underwater. maybe their mom and dad are informed and need local care, maybe they have special needs kids and simply cannot practically relocate, but we gun owners proudly shout F*CK YOU, move the company, who gives a cr@p about your employees and their families.

    Way to win over hearts and minds.

    I don’t like communist occupied states getting tax dollars any more than any other gun owner, but remember that these companies are made up of people and they are the ones who will suffer if a company moves to a more gun friendly state.

    • HSR47 says:

      “S&W was “boycotted” by Glock fanbois almost exclusively.”

      Uh… No.

      S&W was boycotted by gun people with all manner of predilections.

      Also, I own multiple S&W products, and multiple Glock products. It’s not an either/or proposition.

      “Gun companies shouldn’t move out of bad state.”

      I disagree. Gun companies should do what is in their long-term best interest. Magpul moved from Colorado to Wyoming and Texas. Kahr moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. These companies, and more besides, did what they felt they needed to do in order to ensure their long-term survival.

      Also, something to consider when you’re up on your high horse about “uprooting families” is this: If gun companies in bad states have the choice to move or go out of business, which is worse for their employees and their families?

      • Dave says:

        “S&W was boycotted by gun people with all manner of predilections.’

        But mostly Glock fanbois

        “Also, something to consider when you’re up on your high horse about “uprooting families” is this: If gun companies in bad states have the choice to move or go out of business, which is worse for their employees and their families?”

        Straw man.

        I never suggested a company should put itself in financial jeopardy. I suggested it was not in our long term best interests to be pushing for companies to uproot for a political purpose at the expense of the company’s employees.

    • Whetherman says:

      “S&W was “boycotted” by Glock fanbois almost exclusively…”

      I have limited credibility (other than my memories as an “activist” from the era) to comment on this issue, as the probability of me buying a newly manufactured handgun from a dealer has always been vanishingly small. But, I well remember the phrase “S&W must die!” being prevalent across the gun rights community at the time. And I repeated it myself, even though I wasn’t among the “fanbois” of any handgun brand, nor likely to be, and I was already mostly aware that gun owner posturing and chest-thumping would never be followed through on, for very long.

      • Whetherman says:

        If you Google “Smith & Wesson must die,” this comes up as the first hit. I vaguely remember it as a “classic” from the era.

      • Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

        gun owner posturing and chest-thumping would never be followed through on, for very long.

        Except it did. Because S&W nearly went bankrupt. They were a company non-grata back then.

        • Whetherman says:

          I’m continuing this in the spirit of discussion, and not so much argument:

          It is unfortunate that it is difficult to find a lot of detail from the era, today, but as a combination of what can be found, and what I can remember “qualitatively,” you are absolutely right in the short term, but things in the long term are not so clear.

          The S&W deal with Clinton was made on March 17, 2000 and the company was sold for $45 million ($15 million cash and $30 million in acquired debt) on May 11, 2001 — just over a year later.

          As I remember things, there was an immediate attitude by gun owners of, “whew, we don’t have to think about that one anymore.”

          S&W stock did decline toward the end of 2000, but it hadn’t been exactly burning up the road, before the deal.

          The sale was made to a company run by a former S&W executive who had gone over to the other company, in 1999. The gun media and its organizations kept the “S&W must die” meme going until the bargain sale took place, then the subject just disappeared. A novelist could easily make some kind of business conspiracy out of that.

          But that is somewhat beside the point, which is that gun owners/buyers kept the sell-out in mind as long as they were reminded of it, for just about a year, but then forgot about it almost overnight when they were told it was OK.

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