Funds managing $4.8 trillion press the firearm industry to accept new principles on gun safety

Big U.S. pension funds and private money managers are asking gun makers, dealers, retailers and others involved in the firearm industry to engage with them on a set of principles they have developed to promote gun safety.

The investors, from big public pensions like the California Public Employees Retirement System and the Florida State Board of Administration, to private firms like Nuveen, which manages assets for TIAA, and State Street Global Advisors, released their five principles on Wednesday.

They want gun makers to support the development of technology that would make guns safer, enforce responsible dealer standards and promote education and training in firearm safety. They also want gun dealers and retailers to follow best practices in background checks to prevent the sale of weapons to people who aren’t supposed to have them and to train their employees to monitor irregularities at the point of sale.

The investors want people involved in the firearms industry to work with them on developing and promoting these principles.

The statement was signed by representatives of more than $4.8 trillion of investor assets.

It is the latest move by big investors to influence the debate on gun safety, making the argument that guns carry risks that are bad for shareholders of the companies involved in the firearm industry. “This is not political statement about constitutional rights, it is a joint assertion by all of the involved signatories that investors have a stake in advancing public safety,” said Christopher Ailman, the chief investment officer of the California State Teachers Retirement System, which also signed the statement.

In May, CalSTRS said it would engage with gun makers and sellers and possibly divest of their stocks if those efforts failed.

That move came two months after 17 people were killed and 17 injured in a mass shooting at a Florida high school that, at the time, put the debate about gun safety back on the national agenda.

CalSTRS publicized it was going to engage with gun retailers “to leverage the public pressure that has been mounting in this country in response to recent tragic gun violence.”

Activists have been putting pressure on gun makers and retailers this year. Faith-based groups won shareholder proposals at Sturn Ruger and American Outdoor Brands, the parent of Smith & Wesson. The companies have to put together reports on whether they are adequately addressing the risks that their products are associated with gun violence and to show that they are looking at ways to make safer guns.

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Major institutional shareholders like BlackRock backed the activist groups, as did major proxy advisory firms like Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis.

But while the debate continues, so do mass shootings. The set of principles released Wednesday comes just one week after a gunman killed 12 people and injured 25 in a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., before killing himself, and less than one month after a gunman killed 11 people and injured 7 including himself at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It is also a little more than one year since a gunman killed 59 people, including himself, and injured nearly 1,000 more during an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.

Some retailers made changes to their policies this year after the Florida shootings. Walmart, which stopped selling military-style rifles in 2015, said it would only sell guns to people 21 years and older, though the legal age for long guns is 18 in a lot of places. Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling AR-15 rifles and high capacity magazines and also restricted other gun sales to those 21 and older.

CalSTRS, with a $222 billion portfolio, represents nearly 1 million public school teachers in the state. In April 2013, four months after a gunman killed 26 children and adults in addition to himself at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the pension was authorized to sell its holdings of gun makers Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson. Two years after that, it got out of an investment interest in Remington Outdoors.

Earlier this year, CalSTRS sold its holdings of Vista Outdoor.