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Gunmaker Smith & Wesson is moving its HQ to Tennessee from Massachusetts


Famed gunmaker Smith & Wesson will leave its historic 165-year-old headquarters in Massachusetts for a new home base in gun-friendly Tennessee, saying proposed  legislation in the deep Blue state to ban manufacturing of assault weapons would devastate its bottom line.

The company announced Thursday that it will build a new $120million facility in Maryville by 2023 and eventually shutter the Springfield location that forged famed firearms like the .357 magnum – used by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies.

However, anti-gun sentiment in the state – sparked by mass shootings involving assault weapons – has been on the rise. The purchase of military-style assault rifles in the state has been banned since 2004, but the manufacturing and distribution of the weapons – which account for 60 percent of sales, according to the company – has remained. 

Several lawmakers introducing the assault weapon bill in April described the ability to manufacture and sell the weapons across state lines as a ‘loophole’ in the existing ban, and hoped that if passed, it would help reduce mass shootings elsewhere. 

Smith in his release described the push for a ban as ‘arbitrary and damaging legislation,’ and said he was confident it would be defeated this session, but ‘the unfortunate likelihood that such restrictions would be raised again led to a review of the best path forward for Smith & Wesson.’ 

‘These bills would prevent Smith & Wesson from manufacturing firearms that are legal in almost every state in America and that are safely used by tens of millions of law-abiding citizens every day exercising their Constitutional 2nd Amendment rights.’ 

With the announcement the company said it will retain its revolver making business in Massachusetts, along with 1,000 jobs

Forging and pistol and revolver making would remain in Massachusetts, however, other manufacturing and distribution would move to Tennessee

Forging and pistol and revolver making would remain in Massachusetts, however, other manufacturing and distribution would move to Tennessee 

Smith & Wesson's current HQ in Springfield Massachusetts, where it has been based since its founding in 1856

Smith & Wesson’s current HQ in Springfield Massachusetts, where it has been based since its founding in 1856 

Smith & Wesson announced Thursday that it was moving its headquarters from Massachusetts to Tennessee in 2023 (pictured a mockup of the new HQ)

Smith & Wesson announced Thursday that it was moving its headquarters from Massachusetts to Tennessee in 2023 (pictured a mockup of the new HQ)

The site in Maryville Tennessee, where the new HQ is slated to be built. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year

The site in Maryville Tennessee, where the new HQ is slated to be built. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year 

In addition to the shuttering its Massachusetts headquarters, and moving 550 jobs out of Springfield, it will also close facilities in Connecticut and Missouri as part of a consolidation plan. 

Specifically, the company’s plastic injection molding, pistol and long gun assembly and distribution will be moved to the new Tennessee facility, while its metal forging, machining, finishing and revolver assembly capacity will remain in Massachusetts. 

The Smith & Wesson Revolver Company was founded in 1856 by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson in Springfield after the duo’s failed endeavor to develop a lever action rifle company in Connecticut.   

The Tennessee deal came after about six months of talks between the company and the state of Tennessee, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee celebrated the announcement on Twitter.

‘We’re proud this company has chosen to relocate from Massachusetts to Blount Co. Thanks for creating 750 jobs & your significant investment,’ he wrote, citing the total number of jobs Smith & Wesson will be relocating to the state.

Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said the company had initially contacted him about potentially expanding its manufacturing presence in the state, but that he then pitched the idea of the company moving its entire headquarters during a dinner meeting with executives, the Boston Globe reported. 

‘That’s a decision that nobody takes lightly,’ he told the outlet. ‘Do we always convert an expansion for manufacturing into a new headquarters? I wouldn’t say our batting average is close to 1,000 percent . . . but if you win one, that is one more than you had the day before.’

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee lauded the announcement, which came after six months of talks with the state

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee lauded the announcement, which came after six months of talks with the state 

Massachusetts assault weapon manufacturing ban bill HD 4192

Introduced in April, 2021, the bill titled An Act To Stop Mass Shootings, is legislation that would further regulate the manufacturing of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices in the state. 

It would restrict the manufacture of such weapons solely for the purpose of military agencies and other countries.

It remains in committee. 

Smith & Wesson’s cartridge revolvers would first come into popular demand during the Civil War, and after, the company would forge a role in America’s westward expansion, providing firearms for the frontier.

In 1899, it would develop the .38 revolver, which became the standard police firearm in the US for much of the 20th century. 

But anti-gun sentiment has in the state has been on the rise. In 2018 students from across the state rallied outside Smith & Wesson’s headquarters to protest gun violence and demand stricter laws, the Boston Globe  reported. 

The proposed bill has so far not had a hearing before the state’s Legislature, and party leadership in both state houses did not issue public statements upon its filing, the Boston Globe reported. 

Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano was skeptical of the stated reasons for the move. 

‘Prudent businesspeople don’t make major decisions, especially a decision that puts hundreds of people out of a job, based on one of the thousands of bills filed each session,’ he told the Globe.

State Representative Marjorie Decker, who was a sponsor of the assault weapon manufacturing bill, speculated on the real reason behind the decision. 

Smith & Wesson rose to prominence with its cartridge revolvers in the latter half of the 19th century, and expanded its production during the Civil War

Smith & Wesson rose to prominence with its cartridge revolvers in the latter half of the 19th century, and expanded its production during the Civil War 

Smith & Wesson's factory in around 1908, after it had introduced the .38, which became the standard police firearm in the US

Smith & Wesson’s factory in around 1908, after it had introduced the .38, which became the standard police firearm in the US

 ‘Smith and Wesson’s statement today is filed with as many holes as a target range. While their press release is politically convenient for them, it’s disingenuous,’ she said, according to the Globe. ‘This is about cheaper labor.’

Smith & Wesson’s fortunes began to decline in the 1980s, when police departments began using European-made pistols instead of their revolvers. The company’s fortunes changed in recent years with the explosive popularity of the assault rifle. 

This year, the company’s net revenue surpassed $1billion for the first time in its history. 

In its release, Smith & Wesson listed cheaper cost of living, and an ‘outdoor lifestyle’ in Tennessee among the factors behind the move, in addition to a ‘business friendly environment’ and ‘favorable location for efficiency of distribution.’

The annoucement of the move came amid pending legislation banning the manufacture of assault weapons in Massachusetts, which now accounts for about 60 percent of the company's revenue. (Pictured: A Smith & Wesson M&P 15)

The annoucement of the move came amid pending legislation banning the manufacture of assault weapons in Massachusetts, which now accounts for about 60 percent of the company’s revenue. (Pictured: A Smith & Wesson M&P 15)

Tennessee is offering the gun maker a FastTrack Economic Development Grant as an incentive, the details of which will be made public in 30 days, and Rolfe said the state’s low taxes were likely a major factor.   

‘We’re going to continue to attract companies from around the country that are saying, I’m tired of being taxed, you know, and I’m looking for a higher quality of life,’ he said, according to WBIR.

With the decision, Smith & Wesson joins fellow gunmaker Troy Industries in moving operations out of Massachusetts. Troy announced a few months ago that it was relocating to Clarksville, Tennessee, along with 75 jobs, citing a ‘changing climate’ for gunmakers in the state it said in a statement.

Groundbreaking for the new Smith & Wesson facility is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2021, and is expected to be complete in 2023. For employees who do not wish to move to Tennessee, Smith said, the company will offer enhanced severance and job placement services.  

‘We are deeply saddened by the impact that this difficult decision will have on so many of our dedicated employees, but in order to preserve future jobs and for the viability of our business in the long term, we are left with no choice but to relocate these functions to a state that does not propose burdensome restrictions on our company,’ he said. 

How Smith & Wesson shaped the western frontier and policing in the US 

Daniel B. Wesson and Horace Smith would found the Smith & Wesson Revolver Company in 1856, and its signature cartridge revolvers would shape the Civil War, western frontier and American police forces for decades

Horace Smith

Daniel B. Wesson (left) and Horace Smith would found the Smith & Wesson Revolver Company in 1856, and its signature cartridge revolvers would shape the Civil War, western frontier and American police forces for decades 

Inventors Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson first went into business together in Connecticut in 1852 to develop a lever-action rifle called the Volcanic Rifle, based off of a new cartridge Smith developed and patented in 1854.

The first Smith & Wesson would be purchased in 1855 by Oliver Winchester and would eventually be renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and Smith would return to his native Springfield Massachusetts. 

In 1856 Samuel Colt’s patent on the revolver was set to expire and Wesson would reconnect with Smith to develop a new kind of revolver, and found the Smith & Wesson Revolver Company that exists to this day. 

The gun, called the Smith & Wesson Model 1 would become immensely popular during the Civil War with soldiers on both sides of the conflict, and the two would expand their manufacturing facilities. 

With the end of the war, in 1870 the company shifted its focus to the American frontier, and began devloping larger-frame revolvers such as the .44 S&W American, whihc would be adoped by the US Army as the first cartridge-firing revolver in US Service. 

Smith would retire in 1874, selling his holdings in the company to Wesson, who would continue on.    

The company would continue to make history in 1899, when it developed the .38 Military & Police, which would be adopted by virtually every police force in the US for most of the 20th century. 

Wesson would die in 1906, and his grandson Douglas B. Wesson would continue to work in the business after him. 

During the post-war period the company moved into larger calibers, developing the iconic Smith & Wesson Model 29 magnum revolver, popularized in the movie Dirty Harry. 

In the 1980s, however, the company’s fortunes declined as police forces adopted pistols from European manufacturers Beretta, Glock and Sig Sauer, and would be sold for $112.5 million in 1987.

Its fortunes would pick up more recently when it moved into the assault rifle business, which has increased in popularity since the expiration in 2004.



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