Score another one for the nuns.
Shareholders in American Outdoor Brands — a.k.a. Smith & Wesson — rebuked the Springfield manufacturer’s leadership on Tuesday, passing a nonbinding resolution dealing with gun safety that was filed by a coalition of nuns and affiliated religious groups.
The activist investors, led by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, had filed a shareholder proposal calling on the company to issue a report by Feb. 8 that outlines the violence associated with the weapons it makes, and details of any corporate efforts to research and produce safer guns. The company’s management fought against the proposal by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
American Outdoor Brands argued it’s not feasible to track the times its products are used in criminal ways. And it has no interest in researching “smart gun technology” — tech aimed at limiting a gun’s use to its owner. We’re a manufacturer, the board said, not a technology company. Chief executive James Debney decried the resolution as politically motivated.
This Smith & Wesson campaign marks the third time that members of the Interfaith Center have tangled with a company in the gun business in recent years. This latest campaign began in 2016, when members bought shares in Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sturm Ruger & Co., and American Outdoor Brands to engage with all three on gun violence.
Dick’s turned out to be easier than they had thought. The retailer’s executives were already contemplating changes. So the Interfaith Center crew dropped its shareholder petition. Dick’s promptly raised the minimum age for gun sales to 21 and ended the sale of assault-style rifles at its stores, after the Parkland, Fla., massacre in February.
Interfaith Center members then took their case to the shareholders at Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor Brands. Nearly 70 percent of the votes at Sturm Ruger went their way in May, in support of a similar proposition to the one that passed on Tuesday.
They have found an important ally in BlackRock, the giant money manager. BlackRock became more vocal in March, following Parkland, by asking gun manufacturers about the steps they take to ensure safe and responsible use of their products. BlackRock happens to be American Outdoor Brands’ largest shareholder, through its index funds. The company voted in favor of the Interfaith Center’s proposal at Sturm Ruger, though its vote this time around is not yet public.
When protesters marched to the American Outdoor campus in Springfield last month, they had no luck with engaging the executives in a conversation. But it’s much harder for a public company to ignore a message delivered by its shareholders.Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.