BlackRock says it’s time to take action on guns, may use voting power to influence

BlackRock said Friday that it has reached out to the publicly traded civilian firearms makers and retailers in the last week and has had “constructive” discussions with some.

It continues to explore talks with others as part of an upswell of activism on Wall Street in response to the public outcry about gun violence. Rival fund giant State Street has also said it was reaching out to gun makers and sellers,

Several gun retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, have taken action in recent days. Dick’s CEO said Wednesday the company would stop selling assault-style weapons and raise the minimum age for gun sales to 21. Walmart is also raising the minimum age, as is Kroger at its Fred Meyer stores.

Even privately held companies are making public statements: L.L. Bean raised its minimum purchase age to 21 and REI, another outdoor retailer, said it stopped its relationship with Vista after the gun company wouldn’t outline a clear plan of action.

There are three publicly owned U.S. companies that make guns: American Outdoor Brands, Vista Outdoor and Sturm Ruger & Co., and others that are privately held.

On a conference call Thursday to discuss quarterly earnings, James Debney, CEO of Smith & Wesson parent American Outdoor, said, “We share the nation’s grief over this incomprehensible and senseless loss of life, and we share the desire to make our community safer.”

Earlier this week, CNBC reported about the efforts of several religious groups, led by Sister Judy Byron of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment in Seattle, to talk to gun makers about the financial and reputational risks of gun violence and ways to produce safer guns. They have submitted proposals for shareholders at American Outdoor and Sturm Ruger to vote on at their next annual meetings.

Byron told CNBC, “Our hope is now with the large investors asking questions that they would support our efforts” with these proxy proposals.

In its update on the gun industry on Friday, BlackRock said despite its size it doesn’t see it as “our place” to dictate what a company should do. However, “based on our engagement conversations and our long-term view of the company, we may vote against specific directors or we may vote against management on shareholder proposals.”

“This is an issue of tremendous urgency and we are bringing, and will continue to bring, a sense of urgency to our engagement efforts in this area,” BlackRock said.