Springfield’s legendary gun maker Smith & Wesson faces future, controversy
Activist Catholic nuns from around the country succeeded Tuesday in getting shareholders of Smith & Wesson’s parent company to pass a resolution asking management to give an accounting of how the company monitors gun violence and what it’s doing to make safer products and keep firearms away from those who shouldn’t own them.
The result, announced at a noontime virtual shareholders meeting held exclusively online, disappointed American Outdoor Brands CEO P. James Debney. Debney, who had urged shareholders to vote no, spoke just after the vote.
But Sister Judy Byron, member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investments in Seattle, said the report she and her fellow women religious seek is in the best interests not only of shareholders but also of society.
She cited the use of Smith & Wesson firearms in by gunmen in mass shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and a community center in San Bernardino, California.
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“We are all seeking solutions to the epidemic of gun violence in our community,” Byron said. “While shareholders all seek a good return, this cannot be our only objective. As investors we cannot sanction a backward-looking business model that looks to the next election to steer base sales.”
Byron and her group want the report to include:
Evidence of monitoring of violent events associated with products produced by the company,
Details on efforts underway to research and produce safer guns and gun products, and
An assessment of the risks to corporate reputation and finances related to gun violence in the U.S.
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The vote is nonbinding, but it puts public pressure on American Outdoor Brands to comply.
Byron’s group got shareholders of a competitor, Connecticut-based Sturm, Ruger & Co., to pass a similar resolution this summer. Ruger has said it will comply despite the resolution being nonbinding.
Debney, in his remarks Tuesday, didn’t address what American Outdoor Brands will do.
Byron said she hopes he decided to prepare the report and to open a dialogue.
“Every investor has a voice and we used our voice,” Byron said. “This is a critical issue in our society. And you have to be part of the solution.”
Byron said Tuesday she only knows that the resolution passed. AOBC won’t make vote totals public until it files paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission later.
The nuns only have 200 shares, the minimum number needed to get a shareholder resolution on the ballot. But Byron said that by getting the matter on the ballot Tuesday, she and her fellow nuns put the matter before the larger investors with more shares and forced them to consider the issue. It also gave them an easy way to make their feelings on gun safety known without taking the lead.
“It gave them a way to voice their concern with the company,”
Byron said she and her group meet next week in New York and then they’ll decide on a strategy for the next round of investor proxy votes.
They might continue to put questions to American Outdoor Brands and Ruger or they might branch out.
She said she and her sisters need to be tenacious. They owe it to the student activists who emerged from Parkland, Florida, after the shooting there.
“We can’t let the young people do the heavy lifting,” Byron said.
The company’s roots trace to 1852 when Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson partnered to manufacture a firearm that used a self-contained cartridge.
American Outdoor Brands has 1,600 employees at its Springfield Smith & Wesson plant. It is advertising for production and professional workers in Springfield, at a plastics plant in Deep River, Connecticut, and at a new warehouse in Missouri.
The religious orders and health care organization that brought forth the gun safety report petition are:
Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province
Adrian Dominican Sisters
Catholic Health Initiatives
Congregation of St. Joseph
Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Louise
Mercy Investment Services
Sisters of Bon Secours, USA
Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province
Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis Province