Gun-related deaths in the U.S. are at a 20-year high. In fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the number of deaths from gunfire to be nearly 40,000 in 2017 – the equivalent of 12 deaths per 100,000, and the highest rate since 1996.
About 43 percent of U.S. households own firearms, and it is estimated there are more than 390 million guns in a country with a population of approximately 327 million. More guns than people – that’s an astonishing statistic.
Our country has witnessed more than 1600 shootings in the past six years and has watched the suicide rate skyrocket, with 60 percent of gun-related deaths in 2017 attributed to choices made all too easily by the swift lethality of a firearm, CDC statistics affirm.
This is a growing and unacceptable epidemic whose causes are numerous and complicated. The responsibility to address the issue of gun violence is shared among many stakeholders – not the least of which are gun manufacturers and distributors. The increase in recent shootings has created heightened scrutiny from the investment community, prompting calls for both the divestment of stocks in gun manufacturers to tighter governance controls. Since the February 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., the voices of young people advocating for change has become impossible to ignore.
In 2018, resolutions were filed with Sturm, Ruger & Co. (Ruger), American Outdoor Brands (AOBC), and Dicks Sporting Goods (Dick’s). The resolutions with Ruger and AOBC requested reports on their activities related to gun safety and the mitigation of harm associated with their products, including evidence of monitoring of violent events associated with their products; current efforts to research and produce safer guns and gun products; and assessment of the corporate reputational and financial risks related to gun violence.
The Ruger and AOBC resolutions received majority shareholder votes — almost 70 percent at Ruger and more than 52 percent at AOBC. Yet when Ruger and AOBC released their reports in February 2019, both companies reiterated their view that investments in gun safety innovations were not worth pursuing, in part due to low demand from their current customer base.
The resolution with Dick’s, a request for a report on the Sandy Hook Principles, was withdrawn after an extremely productive dialogue. In fact, Dick’s took even greater steps to be a part of the solution, including banning the sale of assault weapons in its stores and assigning a lobbyist to advocate for sensible gun legislation on a federal level.
This year, a resolution requesting a proxy access bylaw was filed with Ruger in an attempt to strengthen board competency, a critical need considering the business line. Another resolution requesting the development of a human-rights policy was also filed.
Last year’s high votes show that many shareholders believe the epidemic of violence must be addressed and that corporations with business ties to the gun industry must consider their role in creating solutions. There is a growing intolerance for passivity on gun violence -- now is the right time for companies to do the right thing.