Remarks by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo
March 17, 2000
Smith & Wesson Agreement
SECRETARY CUOMO: First, let me thank you all very much for being with us again today and the distinguished colleagues who are here on stage and Mr. Ed Schultz, President of Smith & Wesson. I've been with this department for seven years. I can say without doubt that in my seven years in this department, this is the most important announcement that we have made.
We've all said that something must be done about unnecessary gun violence in this country. We've heard the statistics many times: 30,000 gun deaths every year; 100,000 injured by firearms every year; a rate of firearm deaths for children in this country, 12 times higher than the other 25 leading industrial nations combined.
Almost weekly, tragedies bring these statistics to life or death, from Michigan to Ohio to Tennessee in just the last few weeks alone.
But despite all this loss, it felt that no real progress could be made. The recent rhetoric made it seem that any hope of progress was gone.
Indeed, after years of Washington gridlock over common sense, gun safety legislation, two years ago, cities, counties and states turned to the courts for relief with 30 eventually filing suit or threatening to file lawsuits against the gun industry.
Then, as many of you recall, last December 8th, the President announced that HUD would join local governments in litigation against the industry if we weren't able to forge a sensible compromise because something had to be done.
We always viewed litigation as a last resort, always maintained our belief that negotiation was in all of our best interests. So we approach the process firm in the belief that reasonable gun manufacturers could sit down with reasonable government officials and reach reasonable solutions.
Responsible parties would know that something needed to be done certainly to stop the senseless violence and the abuses, but would also know that litigation which would also threaten the responsible gun manufacturers was not the answer.
Well, today we announce that we were right and progress is possible. We have reached a settlement with Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun manufacturer. This settlement will bring about fundamental changes in the areas we focused on right from the start, areas of design, distribution and advertising.
It mandates, first of all, an impressive array of safety features, including locking devices, child safety features and authorized user technology that will prevent once and for all accidental gun deaths and keep children safe.
It creates a system of authorized dealerships like we have in so many other industries that will prevent suspect firearm sales like straw purchasing and sales made without background checks that make it easier for criminals to get guns.
It bans advertising that appeals particularly to criminals and it is, as we insisted from the start, an agreement with teeth, with a real enforcement mechanism and real oversight.
This major accomplishment required two essential ingredients, people showing extraordinary leadership first of all and extraordinary cooperation.
First, President Clinton showed extraordinary leadership in this issue from the start, raising this issue and keeping it in the center of our public discourse. The President pushed hard everyday for common sense gun legislation and had the courage to stand up and say that HUD would support a lawsuit against the gun industry, a bold step indeed on a different course.
Today we see the fruits of the President's vision. Mr. Ed Schultz, President and CEO of Smith & Wesson, who showed outstanding leadership and also showed good business judgment knowing that these continued lawsuits would be ultimately the death of the gun industry; the cities, counties and states who started this process months ago.
We have with us today Mayor Campbell. Mayor Penelas is en route. The attorney generals of the states of Connecticut and New York, Mr. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; and Attorney General Elliot Spitzer of New York, who set an aggressive course from day one, who said that negotiation was preferable to litigation if we could make the right agreement. The Attorney General's leadership is evident here today.
Our partners in the White House, Mr. Bruce Reed; the Treasury Department Secretary Summers, who grabbed hold of this issue right from the very beginning; Deputy Secretary Stu Eisenstadt, who provided daily guidance; General Counsel Neal Wolin at the Department of Treasury, who was a get to yes attorney and a tireless advocate; our friend at the Department of Justice, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder; groups like the NAACP and Handgun Control who made this fight their higher goal.
On a point of personal privilege, my deputy general counsel, Max Stier, who literally worked day and night to make this a reality.
On December 14th, this group stood in this very room and pledged unprecedented solidarity. We said one for all and all for one and it happened.
What we do here today is only the first step, but it is a big step indeed. The principles outlined in this agreement provide a framework for a new enlightened gun policy for this nation. Our agreement and compromise rather than our division and hostility, establishes a new positive productive relationship. After many false starts and after much gridlock, we're finally on the road to a safer more peaceful America.
I want to thank all of those who worked so hard to make today possible because today really is a collective achievement with all of the people who are on the stage here, all of the cities who are on the phone, all contributing to make today possible. Mr. Ed Schultz who is on the telephone, who has shown great civic leadership in my opinion, wise business judgment, but also showing that compromise and agreement is preferable to endless litigation.
Mr. Schultz, we'll turn it over to you at this point. Mr. Schultz was going to join us in person. He is in Hartford and there is a weather condition, inclimate weather in Hartford. It's good inclement weather, but it's inclement weather. He is going to be joining us by telephone. Mr. Schultz.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you, very much, Louis. I'd also like to acknowledge the presence of Bruce Reed who is with us today. This has been a priority for the President. He has been very engaged and he's been very aware of how these discussions and negotiations have been going on. Bruce Reed was the quarterback in the White House who coordinated all the federal efforts and really made today possible. Thank you, Bruce, for being with us.
Thank you all for bearing through what was somewhat of a long program, but in many ways that is the story of today. There were many parties that made today possible. We wanted to make sure you heard from all of them. We have time for a few questions. I'll ask Secretary Summers to join me here, Secretary Summers or any of the other members who are here today with us would be available for questions. Mr. Summers.
SPEAKER: What was the main catalyst that brought this agreement today?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Well, today, as you've heard from the mayors, the attorney generals, this has been a long time coming, literally years of discussion, months and months of negotiation. I think as the negotiations have gone on, as more and more of these tragedies seem to happen on almost a weekly basis now, more and more accidents, more and more young people getting killed, I think it increased the pressure on everyone to finally get something done.
SPEAKER: But why today? Is it the rhetoric of the past week? What would you say is the one or two things that brought it to happen today?
SECRETARY CUOMO: I don't know that there was one or two things that you can identify. I think sometimes it's a collection of factors. It's environmental. But there's no doubt that the tragedies of what has been going on, the human tragedies. The mayors who are on ground zero deal with this everyday.
It's literally about the loss of life. It's literally about children's accidents that will scar them for the rest of their lives. I think that certainly weighed in the equation. I also think as we develop more of a relationship with Smith & Wesson and there was more mutual understanding and mutual trust, I think that helped.
But I don't think there was any one element that you can point to that said this was the turning point. But certainly, the events of the past weeks only accelerated the discussions.
SPEAKER: Can you tell us if there were any items that you did not get from Smith & Wesson out of this that you were looking for? Were these talks just with Smith & Wesson or the other gun manufacturers involved in them and they opted out at some point? Can you just give us a general update on where things stand with some of the other leading gun manufacturers right now?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Yeah, this discussion is just with Smith & Wesson which is one of the largest manufacturers and certainly emblematic, the icon for the industry in this nation. We're going to be working with other manufacturers going forward on similar negotiations.
The arrangement with Smith & Wesson we consider unique to Smith & Wesson at this time. There will be other negotiations. But the Smith & Wesson agreement is the framework. It hit all the elements that we wanted to resolve, the safety of guns, the distribution of guns, the advertising of guns.
It is not a perfect agreement. No agreement is a perfect agreement. But it is very good. It is certainly reasonable. It will provide the framework going forward.
I'm sure as you heard from the attorney generals, with this agreement now we will accelerate the discussions with the other manufacturers. Because we have crossed the bridge of whether or not you can do this. When Smith & Wesson says you can do this, you can do it.
All the discussions we've had in this town, all the speeches on the Congress floor. You can't do the Brady checks. You can't control guns. You can't make the guns safer.
Well, Smith & Wesson says they're wrong. We can do these things. That's why today is historic. That's why this break through. After all the rhetoric, we have an agreement with real progress that will make a real difference in people's lives. This agreement will literally save lives. That is not overly hyperbolic. This will literally save lives. We're going to take this agreement and build from here.
SPEAKER: Could I just add something, Andrew? This agreement with Smith & Wesson is significant for the entire industry in three respects.
First, it establishes feasibility. It establishes the thing that it has been said cannot be done, can in fact be done.
Second, it establishes a template for future agreements that is provided by this example. We have seen in other spheres what happens once a single key company in an industry is prepared to enter into settlement negotiations.
Third, this has an important impact on retailing of firearms in our country because these restrictions are accepted for all sales by all of those who choose to be retailers for America's emblematic firearms company. In that way, it has broader impact beginning today.
SECRETARY CUOMO: I'll take one more question and then this group is going to go over to the White House and join the President for an announcement.
SPEAKER: Is the administration still preparing a lawsuit against other gun manufacturers? Also, are you all in similar negotiations as you were with Smith & Wesson with specific manufacturers right now?
SECRETARY CUOMO: HUD's position has not changed in relation to any of the other manufacturers. Yes, we are prepared to litigate. Yes, we would rather negotiate, which is what the Smith & Wesson example shows.
But if the negotiations are not progressing, we will commence litigation against the other manufacturers. I believe that is true for all of the other litigants, cities, counties, states.
This is about Smith & Wesson. This says we were true to our word that we would rather negotiate than litigate. We want reasonable agreements.
But it does not apply to the other manufacturers. We will continue to negotiate, hopefully reach settlement, hopefully not litigate, but we're prepared to do it.
Thank you all very much and thank you all to the participants.
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