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Industry News: April 2001

By Robert Hausman

Handgun manufacturers have stopped shipping their products into the state of Maryland as the result of new state regulations. The implementation, on October 1, of a law requiring a sample fired shell casing be included with each new handgun sold in the state is causing the firearm shortage, just as the hunting seasons got under way.

A successful effort was launched by the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association (MLFDA), during the weeks before the law went into effect, to try to convince handgun manufacturers and distributors to continue shipping into the state.

“Most of our efforts have failed,” says Sandy Abrams, MLFDA vice president. “It seems the companies have a morbid fear of government threats of lawsuits.” Manufacturers have instructed their distributors not to ship into Maryland until the makers are able to become compliant with the shell casing requirements of the law. Retailers must send the shell casing to state police and are required to notify the police if a shell casing was not included with each new handgun they receive.

The other part of the new law is the so-called “safety lock” mandate. As of October 1, retailers must provide handgun safety devices that attach to the customer’s newly purchased handgun. Handgun safety devices, such as supplied by Sturm, Ruger, do not count as “safety devices” under the law according to the MLFDA. Retailers must supply a separate lock (if not provided by the firearm manufacturer) with every handgun sold.

In an interesting twist, the Taurus on-board internal key locking system does not count as a “safety device” until such built-in locks become required by other provisions of state law going into effect on January 1, 2003. Until then, retailers must provide an additional external lock with Taurus products. Gun locks are also required to be supplied with all used handguns.

Maryland law even prohibits consumers from supplying their own gunlocks to a store when purchasing firearms. The reasoning being that the lock the consumer brought into the store might have come from another handgun already owned, and this first handgun would then be stored without a lock in place.

The MLFDA is warning its members that the Maryland state police may conduct “sting” operations to entrap retailers in which officers, posing as consumers, will bring their own locks into stores while purchasing handguns and attempt to induce retailers into selling guns without locks.

Digital photography may be the solution for fired casing requirements, says Smith & Wesson’s director of handguns, Herb Behlin, in commenting on the new laws enacted in Maryland and New York state requiring handgun manufacturers to include a fired casing in product packaging. “We are talking to those involved in drafting these new state regulations regarding manufacturing and packaging requirements, as we can’t live with 50 different sets of rules,” Behlin says.

“From a technical point-of-view, digital photography of a fired casing from each gun at the point of manufacture will be the future. A defense attorney can have a field day on chain of evidence rules with the regulations currently written requiring so many different entities to handle an actual physical casing,” Behlin said.

To aid the industry, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) may help develop manufacturing standards in recognition of new state design and manufacturing requirements. The new standards would be developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) procedure involving review by government and industry.

Meetings have already been held between SAAMI and government officials in California, Massachusetts, New York and Maryland (which have all recently enacted a variety of performance and design standards that handguns have to meet to be sold in each state) in an attempt to develop a uniformity of state requirements that gun manufacturers can live with.

News Shorts

An oversupply of pistol caliber ball ammunition is resulting in some of the lowest prices seen in years. Slow sales, which began in the second quarter of 2000, have caused a buildup of inventory that many distributors are now trying to sell off. Retailers, who had stocked up on ball loads earlier in the year, are unable to compete with high volume mass merchants and those independents that are just now stocking their shelves. The slowdown in firearms sales beginning in the early fall and the non-materializing pre-election sales boom are contributing factors to the low ammo prices.

U.S. Justice Dept. figures indicate assaults, injuries and murders involving the use of a firearm are declining. From 1993 through 1997, non-fatal injuries from crime-related shootings declined 39% from 64,100 to 39,400. Homicides involving a gun fell 27%, from 18,300 to 13,300. The decrease is attributed to a decline in the numbers of 18 to 24 year olds, greater prosecution and longer prison sentences for violent criminals, more arrests for illegal guns in big cities, and a decrease in crack cocaine wars.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports it has added two new computer network servers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) operations center, and that software applications and hardware configurations have been upgraded in all NICS computers.

The FBI says it has also added an in-house pilot call center providing a response to dealers calling in to the system within two minutes, 89- to 90% of the time, as compared to off-site centers that respond quickly only 71- to 73% of the time. The changes, according to the FBI, will improve the NICS’ performance.

However, according to a survey of its membership conducted by the Texas Gun Dealers Association, NICS delays have been increasing. From January through December 1999, NICS delays averaged 28% - and the percentage has been increasing ever since.

In January 2000, NICS delays increased by 3% (over 1999 levels). In February, delays were up 21%, in March up 22%, April up 2%, May up 4%, June up 11%, July up 4%, August up 16%, and in September 2000, NICS delays increased 5% over the prior year’s figures.

The association’s president, Bill Carter, notes that from January through September 2000, NICS delays have increased 10% for a nine-month average of 39%. The statistics include the peak retail days of Saturday and Sunday that average 48% delays.

The question of whether a Michigan State law nullifies the lawsuits filed against the trade by the City of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan, is on hold pending a decision by Circuit Judge Jeanne Stempien.

The state legislature passed the law last spring that grants the authority to file such suits only to the state attorney general. Following recent arguments from both sides in the cases as to the applicability of the law, the judge withheld immediate ruling but could issue a decision without hearing further argument at any time.

Similar questions are pending before the courts in Georgia and Louisiana, where state laws have been enacted that would void the lawsuits filed by the cities of Atlanta and New Orleans. Earlier this year, Stempien rejected claims of negligence against gun manufacturers and dealers, but refused to dismiss the city’s and county’s allegations that the industry creates a public nuisance as its products are sometimes used in crimes.

The Law Enforcement Alliance of America and the Southern States Police Benevolent Association have joined the gun industry’s lawsuit against Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and the coalition of big city mayors alleging restraint of trade and an illegal conspiracy to regulate interstate commerce without Congressional authority.

Both the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute were dropped in early October by a Lake Count Superior Court judge from the Gary, Indiana lawsuit against the gun industry. The suit continues against manufacturers.

Worldwide arms sales to developing nations have slipped to their lowest level-$13.2 billion-since 1991, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. Saudia Arabia ranked first among arms customers in 1998, with $2.7 billion in purchases. The United Arab Emirates was second at $2.5 billion, and Malaysia was third at $2.1 billion.

Alliant Techsystems of Hopkins, MN, is producing the first environmentally-friendly artillery propellant for the U.S. Army for use in the Crusader howitzer vehicle currently under development with a $6 million contract. An Alliant and Picatinny Arsenal team developed and co-patented the powder, which could have implications for use in small arms. The new propellant is being produced at the Radford Army Ammunition plant in Radford, VA.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has stopped distributing cable gunlocks through its Project HomeSafe after learning, from some of its police department partners, that some of the locks could be opened without a key when subjected to sufficient force.

“The purpose of these locks is to prevent unauthorized use of a firearm by an individual, particularly a child, who is unwilling or unable to use force to damage the device,” said the NSSF in a statement. A re-evaluation and testing of the locks is being made before a decision is reached on whether the lock distribution will resume.

There is no truth to the rumor that Smith & Wesson intends to sell its handguns dealer direct, says the gunmaker’s Herb Behlin. “There are no moves here to develop a dealer direct sales plan. But, if all of our distributors told us to take a hike, that would be different.” At present, S&W’s distributors remain in place.

Peter Garrett, a Newport, Kentucky-based gunsmith, has filed suit under the Kentucky firearm pre-emption law against two cities which have denied him the ability to open additional store locations.

The two Campbell County cities, Bellevue and Dayton, have asked the suits be thrown out of court saying they have the right, under zoning laws, to determine the location of firearms-related businesses.

Due to redevelopment and the expected opening of a public housing project near his present store, which has been in operation for over 100 years, Garrett believes he may be eventually forced out and prepared to open stores in the two other cities. But when he sought business permits, both cities turned him down pointing to zoning codes prohibiting firearms businesses in the areas Garrett wanted to be.

Jeffrey Mando, who is defending both cities, said, “All actions (by the cities) are reasonable, legitimate and valid exercises of governmental authority for the regulation of land use or development that advance legitimate government interests.” Bruce McClure, Garrett’s attorney, expressed confidence his client will prevail against the cities, saying regulation of gun shops’ locations are specifically exempted by the state pre-emption law, unless the court finds the pre-emption law unconstitutional. Garrett is seeking the NRA’s help in the suit.

Firearms Training Systems, Inc. (FATS) has sold 13 indirect fire and small arms simulators for the support of deployed peace-keeping forces, to the U.S. Army Europe, 7th Army Training Center. Contract totaling $1,980,000 were awarded to FATS to provide training systems, weapon simulators, extended maintenance and training support for the equipment. Contract options for additional maintenance and training support bring the total potential contract value to approximately $2,500,000. FATS is a leading worldwide producer of interactive simulation systems designed to provide training in the handling and use of small and supporting arms.

Federal Cartridge Co. (website: www.federalcartridge.com) has expanded its American Eagle pistol and rifle ammo line to include reduced-lead loads in three popular calibers. This new ammunition is an economical reduced-lead load for indoor shooting, training and practice where a totally lead-free product is not required.

The Total Metal Jacket (TMJ) ensures the lead core is completely enclosed and that no lead is exposed to the bore or the target, eliminating the pollution hazard from airborne lead. The Toxic Metal Free (TMF) primer uses a special priming mix that does not contain toxic metals. This primer meets government standards for toxicity while providing reliable ignition. The over-all ballistic performance of this ammunition matches conventional loads in such areas as bullet weight, velocity and recoil impulse, according to the manufacturer.

American Eagle reduced-lead pistol loads are available as follows: 9mm Luger with 124 grain bullet producing 1,120 fps muzzle velocity; 9mm Luger with 147 gr. bullet doing 960 fps at the muzzle; .40 S&W with 180 gr. projectile at 990 fps muzzle velocity and .45 Auto with 230 grain bullet doing 850 fps muzzle velocity.

To meet the need for a heavier bullet in .223 Rem. for training and target shooting, Federal has added a new 62 gr. FMJ load. This new bullet compliments the 55 gr. FMJ -BT and 50 gr. JHP already in the line. Muzzle velocity of the 62 gr. FMJ is 3,020 fps.

The Firearms Trade, a gun industry newsletter, is the latest firm to join the industry’s Hunting & Shooting Sports Heritage Fund, an industry-wide preservation effort.


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