Smith & Wesson factory
Revolver production at Smith & Wesson's Springfield, Massachusetts factory (Dan Z. for TTAG)
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By Larry Keane

The decision to move a flagship manufacturer isn’t easy. It’s also not hard when legislators target an industry for destruction.

That’s the case with Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc., which recently announced it will move its headquarters and a large portion of their manufacturing from Springfield, Mass., to Maryville, Tenn. The company has been rooted in western Massachusetts since it was founded in 1852. In 2023, it will open the doors to their new manufacturing facility and headquarters nearly 900 miles to the southwest.

That’s not an easy decision. The company will invest hundreds of millions to build a new production plant. It will consolidate warehousing from Missouri to the Tennessee location. That’s where Smith & Wesson will transition the production of semiautomatic pistols and rifles, while revolvers will continue to be produced in Massachusetts. That move will require transferring 750 jobs.

Smith & Wesson’s planned new headquarters in Maryville, Tennessee (Courtesy Smith & Wesson)

“This has been an extremely difficult and emotional decision for us, but after an exhaustive and thorough analysis, for the continued health and strength of our iconic company, we feel that we have been left with no other alternative,” explained Mark Smith, Smith & Wesson’s President and CEO in a press release.

Tightening Grip

In other words, it was about corporate survival. Massachusetts has become increasingly hostile to gun owners and gun manufactures. The state has among the strictest gun control laws in the nation. State lawmakers banned modern sporting rifles (MSRs) in 1998.

AR-15 production at Smith & Wesson’s Springfield, Mass. headquarters facility (Dan Z. for TTAG)

State Attorney General Maura Healey expanded that crackdown on lawful firearm ownership with a 2016 enforcement notice that alleged firearm retailers were violating the state’s law by making small tweaks to certain firearms. The enforcement notice warned retailers those so-called “copies” or “duplicates” of the firearms specifically listed in the state law were illegal for sale, but that notice was vague and NSSF, along with two Bay State retailers, challenged the notice in court. Attorney General Healey agreed to clarify the notice after two years of legal wrangling.

This was an example of the hostility state authorities held against firearm industry members, but it was a status quo. Smith & Wesson could manufacturer their popular M&P 15 line of MSRs, but they weren’t available for sale to law-abiding citizens in their own state.

The decision point came when lawmakers directly targeted the firearm manufacturer’s ability to do business. Dual bills were filed in the state legislature (HD 4192/SD 2588) that would prohibit firearm manufacturers from manufacturing MSRs. The proposal includes banning so-called “assault weapons” and magazines capable of holding 10 or more cartridges.

Smith & Wesson factory revolvers
Future Smith & Wesson revolvers (Dan Z. for TTAG)

“We are under attack by the state of Massachusetts,” Smith told reporters. The move is anticipated to cost $125 million “that I didn’t want to spend.”

Smith explained in the press release that the proposed Massachusetts legislation would prevent Smith & Wesson from manufacturing MSRs, despite the fact they are lawfully owned by citizens in 43 other states. They’re used for lawful purposes there by law-abiding owners daily, including for recreational target shooting, hunting, and self-defense.

That would have also meant Smith & Wesson would have been forced to sacrifice products that comprise 60 percent of their reported $1.1 billion revenue. There are over 20 million civilian-owned MSRs in circulation today and they are the most-popular selling centerfire rifle on the market.

Strictly Business

“Honestly, we know we could have defeated it this session,” Smith explained to media. “But it will be back the next session and the session after that. I just can’t operate with that big a risk hanging over the company. We only started this process once the bill was filed. Then and only then.”

Smith & Wesson expects it will be two more years before their firearms bear Tennessee markings, but they’re not the only one to leave. Troy Industries, also a manufacturer of MSRs and parts, announced their own relocation earlier this year. Beretta U.S.A. moved manufacturing from Accokeek, Md., to Gallatin, Tenn., and Barrett Firearms is headquartered in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Other companies left their traditional home states for friendlier business climates when it became clear legislatures became hostile to their industry.

Smith & Wesson factory revolver manufacturing
Dan Z. for TTAG

Massachusetts lawmakers’ attacks on Smith & Wesson were purely political. They don’t like firearms and even after they successfully banned their own citizens from owning the MSRs made in their state, they attempted to export their gun control by jeopardizing a leader in the firearm industry. Not so with Tennessee.

“Our pro-business reputation, skilled workforce, and commitment to the Second Amendment make Tennessee an ideal location for firearms manufacturing,” said Republican Gov. Bill Lee in a press statement.  “We welcome Smith & Wesson to The Volunteer State and are proud this U.S.-based brand has chosen to relocate from Massachusetts. Thanks for your significant investment in Blount County and for creating 750 new jobs”

Smith & Wesson’s response isn’t political at all. It’s just good business.

 

Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

 

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19 COMMENTS

    • From what I’ve read, they’re not yet moving all operations. Some will remain in MA for a few years as they conduct a phased move, specifically to allow those employees time to adjust and either move to TN with the company, or find other employment. The spokesperson said the company is appreciative and doesn’t want to leave them in a lurch by using a faster move timeframe.

    • I’m sure plenty of their employees will be given the option to follow S&W and retain their jobs. But you say that like one day their employees will wake up to find S&W has just vanished, and of course that’s ridiculous. This is a massive undertaking that will take years to fully complete, and it’s not being hidden either. Their employees won’t be left high and dry

  1. “…The enforcement notice warned retailers those so-called “copies” or “duplicates” of the firearms specifically listed in the state law were illegal for sale,…”

    That’s what happens when someone who knows nothing about the subject, decides they are experts fully qualified to write laws, about things they know nothing about…

  2. Well, I guess it turns out that their gutless deal cutting with the Clintons behind everyone’s back, betraying the 2nd Amendment, didn’t save them after all. As we can clearly see with the insane left eating its own these days, kneeling to the woke mob only means the alligator eats you last, it’s doesn’t keep you from being eaten.

    And since, as a poster above noted, they’re running from the toxic anti-gun atmosphere they help foster, they might as well grow a backbone when they get to Tennessee and get rid of the single dumbest element of firearms design since Dardick’s revolver Trounds, which is of course the totally inane, useless and ‘ugly as Fido’s butt’ trigger lock, AKA the Hillary Hole.

    Ditch, it S&W. No one (and I mean NO ONE!) on Earth wants the damned thing there. Clean up your mess!

    • A British company owned and ran S&W back then. They were bought out, and the managers shown the door.

      You’ll notice it’s called “Smith and Wesson Brands” now, not just S&W. They would never of started making MSR’s if the Brits still ran it.

      My complaint with S&W is I bought two turkeys from them, and they basically blew me off. The first was a 1980’s Model 659, which was a POS, with more sharp edges than a bag of broken glass.

      I bought two of the S&W Sigmas 40F, the premium .40, and the 9V “value” one in grey. I fired the 9MM, it’s ugly but works fine. Got it for under $200 with 10 round Clinton mags. The more expensive .40 I never shot, and the front site fell off in my safe.

      I contacted them, it being 10+ yeas old I didn’t expect a positive response. They said they’d send me a prepaid shipping label with instructions. It never came, and gun from 1994 is useless, and I’m not paying to fix it. If I ever need a canoe anchor, I might put a loaded 14 round mag in it and tie a rope on it.

      I keep it as a reminder; “Never buy anything but a revolver from S&W, if that”. You’re gonna get screwed.

    • Revolver manufacture will remain in MA, along with the Hillary Hole. Once a “safety feature” is incorporated in a firearm, it stays, primarily to avoid legal challenges from ambitious litigators.

  3. As an additional bonus, which I’m sure S&W will take advantage of, unions will go bye-bye as production moves to TN. Can you say pay and benefits “renegotiation”. I’m surprised Colt didn’t try something similar. Anytime a state woos businesses with the phrase “business friendly” you can pretty much count unions out.

  4. Unions, based on the communist idea that all workers have the same capability. The original idiot idea for acheving EQUITY OF OUTCOME versus EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY.

  5. It is interesting in cities and states where the minimum wage has been raised to $15 an hour, union employee are exempt from that minimum wage. They have “a union contract” which is sacred. If the “union contract” says their maximum wage is $10.50 an hour, guess what. That’s what you get while the burger flipper at Mickey D’s is theoretically getting $15 an hour. Except he used to work 25 hours a week and now he is working 15 or less — until replaced by some robotic machine. Then he will be living on the dole and perhaps on the street.

    Additionally, employees of the unions themselves as far as I have been able to determine are in a special exempt category in most of the legislation.

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