Nuns vs. Guns: How These Sisters Took on Smith & Wesson—And Won

September 26, 2018, 11:09 AM UTC

A resolution proposed by nuns has won the backing of shareholders of Smith & Wesson maker American Outdoor Brands (AOBC), forcing the company to report back on its efforts to curtail gun violence.

The resolution, pitched by the Sisters of the Holy Names and Jesus and Mary, along with other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, passed Tuesday. Company CEO James Debney complained afterwards that the vote was “politically motivated.”

“We are all looking for solutions to gun violence,” said Sister Judy Byron, who presented the resolution. “The shareholders who filed this proposal believe that, as a company directly implicated in these events, American Outdoor Brands is obligated to help find them.”

It wasn’t just religious groups backing the resolution. The proxies Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis agreed, as did the investment management giant BlackRock (BLK). BlackRock also sided with the religious groups in a similar vote over at rival weapon-maker Sturm Ruger (RGR) back in May.

The nuns, who have previously conducted similar activist-shareholder campaigns over issues such as executive pay and global warming, have been planning their gun violence campaign for the last few years. After buying shares in American Outdoor and Sturm Ruger, they tried to engage management but were blanked.

For support, they turned to the likes of BlackRock, the biggest shareholder in both gun companies, which has been dealing with clients who are angry about their portfolios including gun stocks.

The Smith & Wesson resolution said it was “imperative that we assess all options for decreasing the societal impact of gun violence and mitigate financial and reputational risks for the company.” It noted overwhelming support for background checks and assault weapon bans, and highlighted the role of Smith & Wesson products in five mass shootings—including Parkland and San Bernardino—since 1984.

“Shareholders request the Board of Directors issue a report by February 8, 2019, at reasonable expense and excluding proprietary information, on the company’s activities related to gun safety measures and the mitigation of harm associated with gun products,” the proposal read, specifying evidence of monitoring of violent events, efforts to research safer guns, and assessments of the corporate reputational and financial risks that come with gun violence.

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