By Paige Smith
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in The Sun Chronicle.
BOSTON — The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has shone a new spotlight on Massachusetts’ thriving firearms manufacturing industry.
Some key manufacturers and distributors in western and central Massachusetts and the surrounding region include Savage Arms, Kahr Arms, Camfour Inc., Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Colt’s Manufacturing Co.
Rick Sullivan, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, referred to weapons manufacturing as the “backbone” of the region’s commerce, and an industry that is growing “across the board.” Firearms manufacturers have been in the region “since the time of the American Revolution,” Sullivan said in a telephone interview.
Massachusetts ranked among the top 10 states for total economic output in dollars from the arms and ammunition industries in 2016, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation report. Gun Owners’ Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace called gun manufacturing a “tradition” in the commonwealth.
“Sadly … I think there are many people who would love to see them leave, but I think the state as a whole needs to review their whole outlook on this issue, and actually welcome lawful people and lawful business,” Wallace said.
Manufacturers are not restricted in the type of gun they make, as long as it is done in accordance with ATF’s standards, and even if certain types of guns are banned in their respective states. The Bay State has banned assault weapons since 1998, yet Springfield-based Smith & Wesson, now a subsidiary of American Outdoor Brands, manufactured the semi-automatic rifle used in Parkland.
Sullivan mentioned that Smith & Wesson has been present in the region for “generations.”
“They are a significant employer here in the region, and have been a good community member,” he said.
Smith & Wesson declined to comment.
Some elected officials — and one gubernatorial candidate — are looking for ways to coexist with the industry in spite of a fundamental disagreement over some weapons.
Emily Snyder, a spokesperson for Attorney General Maura Healey, said that Massachusetts will continue to uphold its assault weapons ban while calling on gun manufacturers to respect those efforts.
“In Massachusetts, where we have one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country, we know that strong gun laws save lives,” Snyder said in an email statement. “We are committed to enforcing the laws on the books and are hopeful that all manufacturers and dealers will support these efforts for the safety and security of our communities.”
Small arms and accessories manufacturing accounted for a monthly average employment rate of 2,116 jobs in the Springfield metro area, according to 2017 data, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former secretary of administration and finance Jay Gonzalez said that job creation can be found elsewhere.
“This is one of those things where I think we need to put our foot down and say, no manufacturer in Massachusetts should be able to manufacture and sell these weapons of mass destruction,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview a day after standing with students protesting outside of Smith & Wesson’s factory.
“There are plenty of other areas where we can create a lot of jobs that aren’t going to end up creating products that are killing kids,” he said.
Gonzalez did not call for an outright ban of gun manufacturing in Massachusetts, but rather a ban on creating weapons that cannot be purchased in the commonwealth.
“Even Smith & Wesson can continue to manufacture guns that can be sold legally here in Massachusetts,” he said. “The federal government refuses to act, so we need to step up and act here.”
Other elected officials disagree, including State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who oversees the pension system and proposed legislation to divest state pension funds from gun and ammunition manufacturers. A bill co-filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, and Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton, would make that happen.
“I’m frustrated that Congress is unable to even put forward the most basic, common sense gun legislation, so feeling a responsibility, as one of the 200 state stewards in our Legislature, of our retirement savings and pension funds, I felt it was time to make sure we’re not profiting from that violence,” Ehrlich said in a phone interview.
She said that the focus would be on companies that drive 15 percent or greater of their revenue from firearms, ammunition and accessories, as well as not differentiating between companies that develop more basic firearms versus assault weapons.
Wallace, however, maintains that gun manufacturers should always have a home in the commonwealth.
“This is where freedom was born, so I think it’s appropriate that firearms manufacturers, who are all following the laws, should be welcomed here in Massachusetts.”