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Five things to know about Massachusetts gunmaker Smith & Wesson

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/13/2022 Andrew Brinker
Smith & Wesson M&P-15 semi-automatic rifles were displayed during the NRA annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center, in Houston in May. © PATRICK T. FALLON Smith & Wesson M&P-15 semi-automatic rifles were displayed during the NRA annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center, in Houston in May.

For more than a century, Springfield’s Smith & Wesson has been the epicenter of the Northeast’s gun manufacturing industry, building more firearms than almost any other gunmaker in the nation.

But the company ― and the industry ― has come under increased scrutiny as the United States grapples with a gun violence crisis. Smith & Wesson firearms have been used in some of the deadliest mass shootings to date.

Ahead of the company’s quarterly report this week, here are five things to know.

1) Sales soared during the pandemic.

Smith & Wesson raked in $1.1 billion in net sales in fiscal year 2021, more than double the prior year’s figure. On a conference call with investors last June, chief executive and president Mark Smith called it the most lucrative 12 months in the company’s 170-year history.

The gun market has cooled considerably in 2022. Net sales in the quarter ended in March were $177.7 million, down around $80 million from the same period in 2021, though still higher than the mark set in 2020.

Smith, on a call with investors in March, attributed the dip in sales to the cyclical nature of the gun market. Still, he said the company is well positioned to come out the other side.

2) CEO keeps a low profile.

Before he was appointed chief executive, Smith worked in a number of executive roles at the company, including as vice president of manufacturing and supply chain management. He joined Smith & Wesson in 2011 after three years handling supply chain management at the business consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal and six years at the food safety company Ecolab.

In January 2020, he was appointed co-chief executivealong with Brian Murphy, after former chief executive P. James Debney was ousted for conduct “inconsistent with a non-financial company policy.” In August of that year, Smith & Wesson’s owner, American Outdoor Brands, became a separate publicly traded company. Murphy became chief executive of American Outdoor and Smith took the helm at Smith & Wesson.

Unlike previous heads, Smith, 46, has stayed out of the spotlight since taking over the company. Still, he has made his position on gun control measures clear.

Last September, Smith announced the company would move its headquarters from Springfield to Tennessee, citing a bill in the Legislature that would ban the manufacturing of certain types of firearms, including those considered assault rifles by the state, in Massachusetts that are intended for sale to the general public. (Production of those weapons under military or law enforcement contracts would still be permitted; the company said the class of weapons accounts for more than 60 percent of its sales.)

Smith in 2021 earned $2.7 million, more than $1 million of it from shares of company stock, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

3) Its headquarters and some jobs are moving to Tennessee.

“Gun Valley,” anchored around Smith & Wesson and other gun manufacturing plants in the Connecticut River Valley, may be on its last legs. The company is making progress with its move to Blount County, Tennessee, where laws governing gun ownership and sales are fewer.

Workers broke ground at the site of the new $125 million headquarters and manufacturing plant in Maryville, Tenn., last November, and Smith said in March “the project is continuing to progress well” and still on track to be “substantially complete by the third or fourth quarter of calendar 2023.″

Smith & Wesson has promised to create 620 new jobs there with an hourly wage averaging at least $25.97. The Springfield plant will continue to do machining work, metal forging, and revolver assembly after the move is complete, according to SEC filings. About 550 jobs will be shifted out of Massachusetts. A Connecticut factory and the Missouri distribution center where Smith & Wesson has done most of its production in the last several years will also close.

The company received a $9 million grant from the state of Tennessee to move its headquarters there and a 60 percent tax break on the property for the first seven years.

4) AR-15-style rifles account for an increasing share of profits.

What started in the mid-1800s as “Smith and Wesson Revolver Company” has boomed into the largest manufacturer of handguns in the United States. In 2021, the company shipped 2.08 million handguns, 65 percent more than the previous year, accounting for some $775 million of revenue, according to company data.

Smith & Wesson debuted its first long gun, the AR-15-style M&P 15, in 2006. Now, it sells a number of semi-automatic weapons, which it calls “modern sporting rifles.”

Those weapons have accounted for an increasing share of profits. In 2021, Smith & Wesson shipped around 524,000 long guns, grossing some $253 million, or about 25 percent of its total gun revenue. Long guns had accounted for roughly 20 percent of the company’s gun revenue over the five years prior.

The M&P 15 was used in the 2018 Parkland, Fla., high school shooting; the 2015 mass shooting at a San Bernardino, Calif., holiday party; and the 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting. Kyle Rittenhouse used an M&P 15 when he shot and killed two protesters and injured another during demonstrations over police conduct in Kenosha, Wisc., in 2020.

Demand for long guns has declined from last year’s surge, Smith told investors in March, though he said he expects the weapons to continue to be a key part of the company’s business.

5) The company has been mostly silent on mass shootings.

Smith & Wesson is tight-lipped in the aftermath of mass shootings, even when its weapons are involved. A list of press releases dating back to 2011 available on the company website does not contain a single reference to mass shootings.

However, there have been incidents when the company has been forced to respond by law. In 2018 after the Parkland school shooting, a group of nuns with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility bought stock in Smith & Wesson, then under the name American Outdoor Brands, and forced a shareholder vote on a resolution that required the company to issue a report on its safety efforts. The resolution passed, with support from major investors including BlackRock.

The report, which came a year later, was a scathing rebuke of calls for gun safety and gun control measures that blamed mass shootings on “the malfeasance of criminals or the actions of the mentally or emotionally impaired.”

A ban on certain weapons or any efforts to restrict ownership represents an assault on the company’s business, the report said.

“A focus on so-called ‘assault rifles’ simply has nothing to do with the stated safety objectives of those who would restrict the sale of this style of rifle,” the report said.


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