You may remember that last year, a number of shareholder groups (including an obscure group of nuns) pushed to force publicly-held firearms companies like American Outdoor (Smith & Wesson), Vista and Ruger to answer a questions about their operations. They wanted to know about so-called reputational risk from being in the business of making firearms, any “assault weapons” they produce, and plans they may have for developing “smart guns.” This all came about following the Parkland shooting.
Last week, the Washington Free Beacon’s Stephen Gutowski reported that as a result of the review mandated by the shareholder vote, Smith & Wesson had announced that they have no plans to get into the “smart gun” business.
As Gutowski’s report details, American Outdoor noted that. . .
“Today’s report complies with a Resolution that was passed by a small percentage of our shareholders in September,” American Outdoor Brands told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement. “Despite the fact that the Resolution was put forward by parties whose interests were not aligned with those of our customers, or those of our shareholders seeking true risk mitigation and value creation, the report represents our good faith effort and investment of company resources. Its contents demonstrate that our reputation with our customers for protecting their Second Amendment rights, and our ability to manufacture the high-quality firearms they want to purchase, are paramount to sustaining and growing our market share and stockholder value.”
For a response, we talked to the Smart Tech Challenge Foundation’s president Margot Hirsch. Her organization funds entrepreneurs building so-called smart guns (Kai Kloepfer may be their most famous investment) and other gun safety devices like biometric locks. Here’s what Hirsch had to say about Smith & Wesson’s statement:
I understand Smith & Wesson’s reticence about developing a smart gun since they were boycotted back in 2000, but it’s been almost 20 years and times have changed. And I can certainly understand any reluctance to trigger the counter-productive New Jersey mandate that has stifled innovation for years.
But there is clearly a push for increased gun safety technology in the US and I don’t believe that is going to go away. The drumbeat started by the Parkland kids and other gun control groups has staying power and they are mobilizing their forces and slowly gaining strength.
This is something the gun companies are going to have to deal with and they will not be able to push it aside.
From a smart tech standpoint, the question of innovating and offering firearms with this kind of technology isn’t about the Second Amendment and/or gun rights. This is all about business.
Car companies are developing autonomous cars which are incredibly complex. Most of their customers may not want them now, but that will change.
We are able to use microelectronics in airplanes and spaceships. Putting electronics in guns is literally not rocket science. It may not be easy, but it certainly is doable and it will happen.
If a company doesn’t have the ability to do it now, they need to you invest in the talent to get people who do. There are people out there who have the know-how. If gun companies like Smith & Wesson want the technology, they can hire and/or license it from the innovators who are working on the technology.
My understanding is that Smith & Wesson didn’t talk to a single current innovator and has done no current research on their own to understand if there is a market for these products. Instead, they relied on research from 2013 which is outdated.
Harley-Davidson has innovated and introduced a line of electric motorcycles. Who would have thought that their tattooed, leather-clad customers would ever want to buy an electric motorcycle? Maybe they don’t, but there’s a whole generation of customers behind them who will.
Building and offering a line of guns with electronic safety technology is about capitalism and business innovation, product line extension and attracting new customers. Gun makers’ current customer base is getting older. Shareholders want companies to innovate, not get stuck in their stodgy, old ways.
Smith & Wesson’s traditional customer base will eventually die off and they will need to attract new, younger customers to gun ownership. This kind of innovation won’t replace “old” guns, it will just add new models to their product catalogue.
Younger people aren’t tech-phobic. They’ve grown up with technology and many of them will see this as a plus. What’s more, the PR value in providing a next-generation, new way to secure your firearm would help to appease shareholders and the segment of the public that is concerned about gun safety.
Companies have to continually innovate and invest in new technologies. Look at the ones that didn’t: Kodak, Blockbuster, BlackBerry. All are either in the corporate graveyard or just a shell of their former selves.
There will always be gun buyers who have no interest in these technologies and don’t believe they are viable. To those people I say, fine, don’t buy them. Smith & Wesson and other companies should continue to offer products for that segment of the market as well.
But to refuse to offer products for an increasing number of customers who will want more technologically sophisticated options is short-sighted. This is all about consumer choice. Or should be.