SPRINGFIELD — The parent company of Smith & Wesson rebuffed a group of shareholding nuns who asked the company to do more to fight gun violence saying — in part — that its gun customers wouldn’t stand for it.
“The Company’s reputation as a strong defender of the Second Amendment is not worth risking for a vague goal of improving the company’s reputation among non-customers or special interest groups with an anti-Second Amendment agenda,” management at Springfield-based American Outdoor Brands Corporation wrote in a 20-page response issued Friday.
In 2018, frustrated by incessant gun violence, mass shootings and a lack of dialogue with gun makers, a coalition of nuns from around the country bought small amounts of stock in American Outdoor Brands and competitor Sturm, Ruger & Co.
The nuns, led by Sister Judy Byron, a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investments in Seattle, put referendums on ballots for shareholders meetings at both companies requiring that management write reports about gun safety efforts and how they could be improved.
Both measures passed over management’s objections. Ruger has not yet released its report.
“One thing that is encouraging is that we have their attention,” Byron said in the wake of the votes. She couldn’t be reached Monday.
American Outdoor Brands, in its report, stressed that its customers don’t hold the company responsible for criminal shootings.
“AOBC’s customer base of knowledgeable, law abiding firearms purchasers does not blame Smith & Wesson, or any other firearms brand, for the malfeasance of criminals or the actions of the mentally or emotionally impaired,” the report said. “In fact, they are more inclined to support greater access to firearms by private citizens to help prevent and protect themselves from these tragedies.”
American Outdoor Brands says that violent acts, including mass shootings, done with guns it makes don’t hurt its corporate reputation.
The message sent this year has shades of Smith & Wesson’s near death in 2000. Back then, previous owners of the company announced cooperation with Clinton administration gun control efforts in exchange for an end to lawsuits against the company. The agreement included a promise to develop “smart gun” technology that would allow only the owner to fire a gun.
Such guns can work by means of a computer chip embedded in a ring or bracelet. Proximity to the chip unlocks the gun.
The backlash from the NRA was swift and boycotts nearly destroyed Smith & Wesson.
This week, AOBC management said that there isn’t a market for smart guns nor technology reliable enough to make them. But it did tout several safety features on its guns. AOBC also explained its support of educational efforts for proper gun storage and teaching people not to be ‘”straw” buyers and purchase guns for those who can’t buy a gun legally, a program called “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy”.
American Outdoor Brands also cited its support for enforcing current gun laws and for suicide prevention efforts, saying 60 percent of all gun deaths are those who die by suicide.
The same nuns who became AOBC stockholders had already pressured retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods to stop selling assault-style semiautomatic rifles at its Field & Stream stores.
Separately, the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts voted in December to buy 200 shares of stock in American Outdoor Brands so that it can also influence the company through shareholder ballot questions. In July, Bishop Douglas J. Fisher spearheaded a successful effort to get the church’s national body also to buy just enough AOBC stock in order put questions on the ballot.
The Episcopalians are calling for universal background checks, smart gun technology and an end to Smith & Wesson making guns that are illegal to possess in Massachusetts under this state’s stringent gun laws.
Byron has stressed that her efforts aren’t about banning guns but about creating safer guns and keeping them out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
National conversations about gun control centered on Smith & Wesson in February 2018 after a troubled teen used a Smith & Wesson rifle to kill 17 students and staff at high school in Parkland, Florida.
The diocese and its partners are calling for universal background checks, smart gun technology that would stop a gun from working if in the hands of anyone but its owner, an end to Smith & Wesson making guns that are illegal to possess in Massachusetts under this state’s stringent gun laws.
In the aftermath of that incident, student groups started organizing marches on American Outdoor Brands headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue. Parkland survivor turned activist David Hogg was part of one such march in August.
One of the things the nuns asked Smith & Wesson to do is to research the impact of mass shootings and gun violence on its corporate reputation.
AOBC said in the report that it hired a media monitoring firm. The report said news story mentions of Smith & Wesson in connection with violence spiked in the aftermath of Parkland.
But AOBC said management doesn’t fear that the negative connotation with violence will stop consumers from buying its other products, including outdoor equipment and the like.
Smith & Wesson changed its name in 2016 as part of a diversification push.
American Outdoor Brands has 1,600 employees at its Springfield Smith & Wesson plant.
Smith & Wesson traces its roots to 1852, when Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson partnered to manufacture a firearm that used a self-contained cartridge.