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Stockholder nuns call out Smith & Wesson over gun violence, putting another proposal up for vote

MassLive.com logo MassLive.com 9/4/2021 Jim Kinney, masslive.com

SPRINGFIELD — A group of nuns who bought stock in Smith & Wesson just to have a say in the gun debate are once again calling out the manufacturer for what they call indifference to firearms’ impact on human rights.

The Adrian Dominican Sisters say the Springfield-based company has a responsibility to adhere to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The nuns have for the third time placed a proposal on the ballot sent out to shareholders that would force management at Smith & Wesson to address their concerns. The annual shareholders meeting is Sept. 27.

“We first filed this proposal in (2019) believing a formal human rights policy would serve the company and all its stakeholders, particularly in light of the company’s business model, for example its sales of potentially lethal firearms that could cause serious human rights harms,” wrote wrote sister Judy Byron, of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, in response to an emailed question. “These policies have been adopted by hundreds of companies with far lesser risk profiles. The proposal garnered 36% support, which is a strong signal that shareholders understand the concerns and see the value of having a policy in place to mitigate these human rights risks.”

Management’s opposition to the nuns is recorded in its instructions to shareholders filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company says complying with the proposal would subject it to tens of billions of dollars in liability from injured parties. It tells shareholders that it is managing the risks associated with selling firearms, including risks gun violence poses to its reputation.

Coming off a record year of $1.1 billion in revenue, Smith & Wesson plans to release its most recent quarterly earnings Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier this month the Mexican government sued Smith & Wesson and other gunmakers and distributors in the U.S. federal court in Boston, saying the gun industry in the United states is fueling cartel wars south of the border, where there are few gun shops and access is controlled.

Smith & Wesson is also being sued by mass shooting victims in Canada and by the state of New Jersey over its marketing practices, which New Jersey says don’t reflect the state’s gun laws.

Victims in a California synagogue shooting where the attacker used a Smith & Wesson rifle recently won the right to sue.

Byron said the lawsuits are “further testament” to the need for Smith & Wesson to adopt a human rights policy.

Frustrated by incessant gun violence, mass shootings and a lack of dialogue with gunmakers, the coalition of nuns from around the country bought small amounts of stock in Smith & Wesson’s then owner, American Outdoor Brands Corp., and competitor Sturm, Ruger & Co.

It’s an idea that’s gained traction among activists. The Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts has also purchased shares in Smith & Wesson, planning the same type of activism.

In 2018, the Adrian Dominican Sisters succeeded in getting shareholders to force Smith & Wesson management to write a report outlining its activities promoting gun safety and its attempts to mitigate harm. Smith & Wesson’s then management released a dismissive report a few months later.

“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,” the company said in early 2019.

The nuns introduced the human rights policy resolution later that year, but the 36% of the shareholder vote it received was not enough to pass.

They brought the measure again in 2020, but withdrew it and entered talks with management of what’s now called Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. following the spin-off of American Outdoor Brands’ camping business. Those talks broke down last year, according to both sides. Now the measure is back before the stockholders.

Smith & Wesson stock closed Monday at $14.25 a share, down 17 cents or 0.7% on the day.

Smith & Wesson has three factories: the 575,000-square-foot facility in Springfield, a 150,000-square-foot plastics facility in Connecticut, and a 38,000-square-foot facility in Maine. The Springfield plant and headquarters employs 1,600 workers.

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