In response to BlackRock, American Outdoor Brands says it supports safety measures including tighter background checks
Smith & Wesson’s parent company said Tuesday that it was wary of adding “smart-gun” technology to its weapons, as investors push the industry to address safety issues in the wake of recent mass shootings.
Asset manager BlackRock Inc. urged listed firearms makers last week to address their potential exposure to litigation from mass shootings such as the one at a school in Parkland, Fla., last month that left 17 people dead. The world’s largest money manager by assets is also the biggest investor in many weapons and ammunition makers via its index funds.
American Outdoor Brands Corp. AOBC -0.12% , Smith & Wesson’s owner and the largest U.S. commercial gun maker by sales, said in a nine-page response to BlackRock that it supports gun-safety measures including tighter background checks and many existing ownership regulations.
“We respect the national debate that is currently underway regarding firearms and safety,” American Outdoor chairman Barry Monheit and Chief Executive James Debney wrote. “We share the desire to make our communities safer.”
The company said it hasn’t invested in nascent smart-gun technology that can prevent someone other than a gun’s owner from firing it, citing concerns about its development and demand from its core customers.
“We are a manufacturing company, not a technology company,” it wrote.
All four companies and a number of retailers received letters from BlackRock, which is expected to press for face-to-face meetings with executives, according to people familiar with the situation.
American Outdoor said in its letter that its investors are “well aware” of the risks associated with firearms manufacturers.
The alleged Parkland shooter used a Smith & Wesson M&P 15, a semi-automatic AR-15-style rifle, authorities said. American Outdoor didn’t mention such rifles in its letter. The company derives more than 10% of sales from such “modern sporting rifles,” also known as assault-style weapons. Similar guns have been used in other mass shootings, and some retailers said they would halt sales.
Last week, American Outdoor reported that sales in its latest quarter dropped 33% and warned flagging demand was expected to last at least a year. The company and Sturm Ruger have cut hundreds of jobs in recent months because of sluggish sales.