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Smith & Wesson departure did not seem 'imminent or likely,' spurring questions from Mass. lawmakers

The headquarters of gunmaker Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Massachusetts.
file photo from Mark M. Murray
The Republican / MassLive
The headquarters of gunmaker Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Smith & Wesson said last week it will relocate its headquarters after nearly 170 years in Springfield, Massachusetts. The company blamed proposed legislation that would essentially extend the state's assault weapons ban to manufacturers.

Lawmakers called that a red herring.  

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about the view on this subject from the state level.

He said there is no evidence Governor Charlie Baker’s office — which was mum about it last week — tried to offer Smith & Wesson an incentive package, as Tennessee did.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: We have not heard or seen any evidence that there was any effort or communication between the gun manufacturer and the state to try and keep them here.

This seems like a move that was motivated by the company. ...They did blame the atmosphere on Beacon Hill.

We've seen in the past few years legislation filed to ban the manufacture of assault style weapons that accounts for a large portion of the gun company's revenue.

This legislation has really not gained much traction on Beacon Hill, even though in the past, we have seen even candidates for governor embrace the notion — in particular, Democrat Jay Gonzalez, in 2018.

But this is not something that seemed imminent or likely, which is why you're hearing from some western Massachusetts lawmakers, like Senator Eric Lesser and others, question this rationale from Smith & Wesson.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Is Smith & Wesson's announced departure concerning to the manufacturing sector more broadly? Are company execs watching closely how the state deals with this loss of manufacturing jobs and plans to rebound?

Sure. I mean, I think you've seen some local officials talk about some manufacturing jobs staying. That's going to put [about 750 people out of work, retaining about 1,000 jobs in Springfield] and that is some welcome news.

There is going to have to be an effort here. I think you'll see from the state to try and retrain some of the workers who will be losing their jobs, and find other types of employment for them. But the gun industry in Massachusetts — it's not huge. It's anchored by Smith & Wesson, and it has come under fire from political leaders in the past. 

A week from now, in some parts of the state, is Indigenous Peoples Day, and an effort to apply the new name for Columbus Day statewide. The proposal had a hearing last week. A similar bill was killed last session by sending it for further study. Is there any chance this bill advances before next Monday?

It doesn't seem like that is in the cards for this year — for this holiday, I should say. The hearing just held. We know the House and Senate are meeting this week — the Senate taking up some other legislation, the House looking at some housekeeping.

But this does not appear at this point on either branch's agenda for 2021. I'm sure it will get some consideration this year.

A lot of people testified last week on the pros and cons of this concept. It's not the first time we've heard it, but I think it's going to be a Columbus Day again in 2021.

This Wednesday, the state Senate is expected to consider a package of election law changes. The proposal would permanently authorize mail-in voting, provide for Election Day voter registration and also try to increase access to ballots for eligible incarcerated voters. Do all these pieces have broad support?

Largely, this bill is supported in the Senate, particularly the first couple of pieces you talked about — making mail-in voting a permanent feature of elections in Massachusetts, as well as the expansion of early voting — broadly supported.

When you get to some of the other pieces, that's where we could see some amendments come in. Same-day voter registration is one of the biggest changes that this bill would usher in. We haven't seen it in Massachusetts yet, even though a couple of dozen other states do this.

There are also people looking for some changes to those supports for incarcerated people helping them to vote. Some lawmakers could be looking for we know advocates looking to strengthen those sections. So those are two areas to watch as we move into Wednesday.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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