The end of 1999 is rapidly approaching and many of us are pondering what the year 2000 and beyond will bring. Our particular focus is on our future, that of the firearms industry. Developing a perspective on the future requires a realistic assessment of where we are today, the starting point from which we will move forward.
In spite of the efforts by many politicians to convince us they are making government smaller and less intrusive, the reality is we have more laws, regulations, taxes and government than ever. As a society, we have traded personal responsibility for our individual actions for the security, real or false, of government intervention.
In addition, both the legislative and the executive branches of our government are now driven by polls that provide information about what kind of decisions make people "feel good" about their elected officials. The instant feedback today's communications technology provides makes it possible for the constituency to express their "feelings" quickly. Too many leaders are not willing, or able, to make the hard calls that balance the needs and rights of all citizens. In the interest of appeasing many special interest groups and perpetuating the party, decisions are made based on popularity and emotion, not facts and law.
Those who decide they didn't get their share of the government "feel good" or can't influence the legislative process to their liking now go to the courts to address their grievances. The legal system we have today will continue to allow anyone who feels wronged to sue anytime. Having failed to change the laws, our adversaries are more than willing to provide legal advice and financial support to advance lawsuits against the industry. Failing to find a way to address the impact of these suits, the short term rhetoric and long-term costs will play into our opponents' hands.
With this understanding of the current political and legal climate, we have a starting point for the firearms industry as it moves into the next millennium. Our industry has been under attack for some time. The velocity and voracity of the attack is greater than anytime in the history of our country. We know that our industry is highly regulated and to operate, we must, and do, meet every regulation required.
In addition to conducting business in a highly regulated environment, we also operate in a small, highly competitive market. We sell consumer products, not only competing with each other, but also vying for the consumers' discretionary dollars with other consumer products. In order to compete we must provide many features, services and support that far exceed any requirements set by the regulating agencies. We also know that to attract customers, our products must continually be upgraded and expanded through innovation that requires significant investment in both product and processes.
All of this is required just to run our businesses. Unfortunately, at the same time we must fight for our industry's survival. Just as we have to change our companies constantly to survive in the climate in which we compete, we now have to face the changes that will be required for our industry to survive. We can't just stand and fight.
We must first understand what we are up against. We cannot win if we are significantly out-gunned, out-financed or out-numbered. We must move forward as a unified group. A decision not to move forward is a decision to surrender. Together, both our industry and those who oppose it, we must find mutual solutions that will provide the environment for future coexistence.
That being said, we must not even consider sacrificing our Second Amendment rights. We must shape the debate to discuss the issues of crime, violence and unintentional shootings. We must consider solutions that, although they may be an inconvenience, will eliminate those attacks and the public relations damage they bring to our industry. We must find, or create, leaders who will address those things that can be done, not just list what won't be done. We need to develop communications with the opinion leaders to counter repeated mis-information before it is accepted by the public.
We must get involved in the debate in such a way that we can influence the outcome. Industry support for the Hunting and Shooting Sports Heritage Fund can help accomplish these goals. We must understand the issues from the point of view of those we regard as our opponents. Despite the rhetoric, not all our opponents want to disarm law-abiding citizens. Perceptions can be stronger than reality, and equally misleading.
The future will entail change and we should help engineer it rather than be victims of it. Every time our industry has become an issue of national debate, changes have occurred. Between now and the next election our industry and products will be a major part of the national debate. Regardless of the outcome of the election, the pressure to change will continue. We need to forge relationships with politicians, the media, community leaders and others that will drive the change.
We have a couple of choices: We can circle our wagons tighter and try to convince ourselves that we are absolutely correct in our positions or we can go out, talk to, and meet our opponents, while earnestly trying to understand what motivates them and how we can impact the issues.
Getting involved, being part of the processes that will impact us and addressing the issues and concerns of our customers, our adversaries and the American public is a more productive path to follow than waiting for the dynamics of change to force us in a direction we can avoid.
Either way, in the future our industry will not be the same as today and definitely will not look like the past.
Ed Shultz is the president and CEO of Smith & Wesson. He is an Iowa State University engineering graduate and is a registered professional engineer. His career spans the construction, agricultural, outdoor power and recreational equipment industries.
In 1992, he joined the Tomkins Corp. to become Smith & Wesson's president and CEO. In 1994, he was promoted to president of Tomkins' Professional Garden and Leisure Group which includes Smith & Wesson, the Murray Group of companies and Hayter Limited, a United Kingdom-based manufacturer.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 1999|
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