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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"There are 200 million guns on the streets here"
 real 28k

The BBC's Philippa Thomas reports
Mr Clinton has finally begun to bring the industry on board
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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 22:17 GMT
Gun safety deal agreed

America's largest gun maker has reached an historic agreement with the Clinton administration to redesign its weapons to include new safety features.

Smith & Wesson will provide safety locks on its handguns within 60 days, and make them child-resistant within a year.

It will also impose curbs on dealers to try to reduce the risk of its weapons being used for crime.

The rate of firearm deaths for children in the US is 12 times higher than the other 25 industrialised countries combined

Andrew Cuomo
In return, the departments of Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury, as well as 30 cities across the nation, have said they will dismiss a number of law suits pending against Smith & Wesson and will refrain from filing new suits.

The remaining gun manufacturers still face law suits at local, state and federal level to recover the costs of gun-related violence.

'Enlightened gun policy'

Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo told a news conference on Friday that this was "the most important announcement" to be made during his time in President Clinton's cabinet.

He said it provided a framework for a new enlightened gun policy for the nation.

"The rate of firearm deaths for children in this country is 12 times higher than the other 25 industrialised countries combined," he told reporters.

"We approached the process in the belief that reasonable gun manufacturers could sit down to stop the senseless gun violence."

Under the terms of the agreement, Smith & Wesson will sell its products only to authorised dealers and distributors who agree to the modifications.

These will include installing child trigger locks and so-called "smart technology", which allows a gun to be fired only by its owner.

Additional safety measures agreed include hidden serial numbers on guns, external and internal locking devices and background checks on buyers at gun shows.

New business plans

The deal affects only Smith & Wesson, one of eight gun manufacturers in the US.

A spokesman said the company agreed to the measures so it could continue selling to the consumer market, and not just the law enforcement and military communities.

'smart' techonology
Other firms are also using 'smart' technology
"This will mean a change in the way Smith & Wesson do business, but it will not sacrifice the Second Amendment rights of gun owners," he said.

Smith & Wesson President Ed Shultz said the deal provided for "the future viability" of the company, while allowing it to "make our guns better and safer in the future".

Angry exchanges

Gun control has re-emerged as an important political issue in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, the White House reacted furiously to allegations by the National Rifle Association that President Clinton was exploiting gun deaths for political purposes.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart described the charges by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as "a sick attack".

Mr LaPierre advised the Clinton administration to concentrate on enforcing existing gun control laws rather than seek more legislation to control firearms.

Correspondents say the gun control issue is likely to become a theme of the presidential campaign, following the shooting recently of a six-year-old girl in a school in Michigan by a fellow pupil.

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