There’s a paradox in the weapons market.
Pension funds are selling their investments in weapons makers, reacting to the Connecticut school shooting on Dec. 14 that led to the deaths of 26 people, most of whom were children. The largest pension fund in the US, Calpers, announced yesterday it was selling $5 million worth of holdings in gun and ammunition-clip makers Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co.
“Eliminating these investments allows us to keep our duty to our members and, in some small part, do what we can to help stop the proliferation of weapons that can magnify and multiply horrific acts of mass violence,” Rob Feckner, president of Calpers’s Board of Administration, said in a statement.
But even as the funds sell off their holdings, share prices for companies like Smith & Wesson have been on the rise since the Connecticut shooting, as Americans worried about possible stricter gun controls flock to the gun stores. In December alone, the FBI reported a 39% increase in background checks needed for gun purchases, a record.
Smith & Wesson’s stock has risen by almost 20% since mid-December and is trading around $9.30. Shares in Sturm, Ruger have gone up by more than 30% since the school massacre.
According to SEC filings from the end of December, the biggest shareholders for Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger included the largest asset and money managers like BlackRock and the Vanguard Group. Neither of them responded to requests for comment. The New York City teachers pension fund and the California teachers pension fund already said they would be divesting in companies that make firearms and related products.
It’s not just the pension funds who are worried about their reputations. Private equity firm Cerberus decided to sell one of its portfolio companies, Freedom Group, which made a rifle used in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. But Cerberus reportedly found it difficult to find a bank willing to advise the firm on the sale because they, too, were cagey: JP Morgan and others turned down the assignment. Cerberus ended up hiring Lazard for the sale.