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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.