With the gun industry itself under fire, Smith & Wesson, maker of the .44-caliber Magnum carried by Dirty Harry, may soon be up for sale.
The nation's largest gunmaker has not yet engaged a buyer, but its parent company is shifting aim away from the firearms business, Smith & Wesson spokesman Ken Jorgensen said today.
The gunmaker is battling a series of municipal lawsuits blaming Smith & Wesson and others for gun violence. Smith & Wesson has been cleared in every lawsuit decided so far, but other cases remain before the courts.
Sally Slovenski, a gun-control advocate at Boston-based Join Together, said the lawsuits are making life more complicated for gunmakers.
"Quite a few of the gun companies are starting to change perspective" and some "are starting to broaden the variety of their manufactured goods," she said.
A British newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, quoted an unidentified source as saying that Smith & Wesson is being put up for sale by its owner, the English conglomerate Tomkins PLC. The newspaper suggested the sale could take in more than $160 million.
Jorgensen said that Tomkins, which acquired Smith & Wesson in 1987, is refocusing on building and automotive products.
"They're going to divest themselves of companies that don't fit into that when they have an opportunity, but there's nothing ongoing with Smith & Wesson at this time," he said.
Jorgensen described Smith & Wesson's sales during the past year as strong, but he declined to give details.
In addition to handguns, Springfield-based Smith & Wesson makes bicycles and a range of computer software for law enforcement agencies. It also does specialized metalworking for more than 300 other companies.
Smith & Wesson developed the first gun of its Magnum line in 1935, and the powerful and physically imposing .44 became an icon in the "Dirty Harry" movies of the 1970s and '80s starring Clint Eastwood.
In the 1983 movie "Sudden Impact," Eastwood tells a villain, "Well we're not just going to let you walk out of here." Asked what he meant by "we," Eastwood replied, "Smith & Wesson and me."
The nation's oldest handgun maker at 147 years, Smith & Wesson employs about 750 workers in Springfield.
Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson founded the company in 1852 to develop a gun that could shoot self-contained cartridges, avoiding the need for loose gunpowder, balls and primer.
Smith & Wesson is also known historically for its widely used six-shot revolvers and weapons that were once standard sidearms for U.S. soldiers.
CAPTION: The Model 29-2 is one of Smith & Wesson's .44-caliber revolvers.