US-based Episcopal Church arms itself with shares in battle for responsible gun-control

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Responding to accusations that arms manufacturer Smith and Wesson has refused to meet with young advocates of gun control, the US-based Episcopal Church has purchased shares in its parent company to carry out shareholder advocacy

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Responding to accusations that arms manufacturer Smith and Wesson has refused to meet with young advocates of gun control, the US-based Episcopal Church has purchased shares in its parent company to carry out shareholder advocacy. The Diocese of Western Massachusetts has purchased shares in American Outdoor Brands Corporation (AOBC) after the US-based Episcopal Church lifted its ban on holding gun shares at its General Convention last year. Explaining the move, the Bishop of West Massachusetts, Doug Fisher, said that over the past year, young activists had sought on “three different occasions to engage leadership in conversation about making our communities safer and they’ve been ignored. . . Smith and Wesson can refuse to meet with those wonderful, young people, but it will be much more difficult to refuse a stockholder.”

The move follows the success of a Catholic religious community, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who filed a successful motion at the company’s AGM last year requiring it to report on “the Company’s activities related to gun safety measures and mitigation of harm associated with gun products.”

Last week, the company published its report, which was heavily critical of the tactics used. It says: “the Company wishes to make clear at the outset that any investment in the firearms industry carries with it the ultimate risk that opponents of the right of private citizens to own firearms may succeed in imposing restrictions or an outright ban on private gun ownership. In fact, the Resolution was the result of groups committed to increased gun control, admittedly pursuing their objectives through shareholder activism.”

It said that “in order to address activists . . . who use their right to advocate to advance their political views in a way that the Company believes harms shareholder value, AOBC has adopted its ‘Principles for Responsible Engagement.’ These Principles ask those that wish to engage with the Company to be transparent regarding whether they accept the Constitutional rights that underpin the Company’s firearms business.”

Bishop Doug Fisher is a member of the 80-strong “Bishops United Against Gun Violence” group, which was established to advocate for gun safety since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. He said: “We are not against gun manufacturers. We are hoping to engage them in being part of the change we so desperately need. Investing in these companies is a follow-up to the success we’ve seen with Dick’s Sporting Goods and several other companies who carry guns.”

He was referring to the retailer Dick’s announcement last February that it would no longer sell firearms to anyone younger than 21; and would completely stop selling assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“Positive strides for gun safety have been made”, Bishop Doug said, “and we hope to see more as people of faith address the public health crisis of gun violence in America.”

First published in Anglican News Service on 11 February 2019.

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