The pendulum of public opinion is swinging toward stricter gun control in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, and an increasing number of Americans believe it’s now politically possible for Congress to take action.
But many people who actively favor stricter gun control may also be unwittingly invested in the gun industry. Here’s how that happens and what you can do about it.
Check your mutual fund.
Many investors and retirement savers have their money in mutual funds instead of buying individual stocks directly. A mutual fund owns shares in multiple companies and in multiple sectors, thus spreading an individual investor’s financial risk. A mutual fund manager decides which stocks to buy and sell with your money. Some are long-term investments and others are not, which makes it hard to know which specific companies your money is supporting via your mutual fund at any given moment.
If you have a 401(k) through your job, there is an excellent chance you’re invested in a mutual fund. Most employers offer several mutual funds and allow workers to choose which to invest in. The guidance your 401(k) manager will give is generally focused on and limited to your tolerance for risk. As you get older ― and closer to retirement ― managers suggest less risky funds, knowing you’ll have less time to recover if the fund doesn’t perform well.
A 2016 analysis of 23,000 mutual funds by investment research firm MSCI found that nearly 75 percent “had some exposure to the weapons industry,” and approximately half of those funds “had direct exposure to gun manufacturers.” In other words, there’s a pretty good chance your mutual fund owns some gun or gun-related stocks.
There’s a pretty good chance your mutual fund owns some gun or gun-related stocks.
How do you know if you are contributing to a mutual fund that supports the gun industry? It isn’t easy.
Keywon Chung created the website GoodbyeGunStocks.com in May 2016 so people could check if they were investing money in the gun lobby, and the site has been in the news again after the Parkland shooting. By design, Chung kept the site current for a 30-day period, but it hasn’t been maintained or updated since, she told HuffPost.
Chung, who lives in South Korea, is a longtime advocate of putting your money where your mouth is. She said that while “green” investing has made a lot of progress with fossil fuel divestment and climate-change awareness, efforts to divest from gun-related investments “are at a much earlier stage.”
She believes that aligning ethical and financial gains will eventually become mainstream behavior.
“Topical divestment is a niche market, but the demand exists and will only grow in the future. To this date, we get inquiries and requests to help people divest from specific areas ― private prisons, de-forestation, animal testing, you name it,” she told HuffPost.
You can call customer service at your mutual fund company and ask if it owns a particular stock. If you’re a Vanguard customer, do a holding search to see whether a fund owns shares in a specific company.
Know what’s considered a “gun stock” if you intend to avoid them.
Although avoiding companies like Smith & Wesson is a no-brainer for those who don’t want firearms funding their retirement, decisions get trickier when it comes to companies, like Walmart, that sell many other goods besides guns and ammunition.
Public pressure in recent weeks has pushed several large retailers to tighten up their gun sales policies. Walmart, the biggest gun seller in the U.S., announced last week it will restrict gun sales to buyers age 21 or older, and that it will no longer stock or sell items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys and air guns.
The same day, Dick’s Sporting Goods ended the sale of all assault-style rifles in its stores and said it will no longer sell high-capacity magazines. It will also require all gun buyers to be at least 21 years old, even where local laws may allow younger buyers. And Friday, outdoor retailer L.L. Bean raised its minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, joining the growing list of U.S. companies that have tightened their firearms restrictions and are severing their connections to the gun lobby in response to the Parkland shooting.
If you are serious about divestiture, figure out where you want to draw the line. Will you include retailers, or just gun and ammo manufacturers?
Investors don’t necessarily wield a lot of influence when it comes to divesting from guns.
Investing is about making money. Every mutual fund manager has a fiduciary responsibility to try and make money for investors. As such, managers invest in stocks of companies and in industries they believe are profitable.
Gun manufacturers have historically made money for several reasons. They supply the equipment that our military and police departments use. As long as we have a military and armed police forces, there will be a need to equip them. Demand from the military is projected to help the guns and ammunition industry grow because of increasing defense spending and combat operations, notes market research company IBISWorld.
But what about the impact of civilian sales? It remains to be seen whether the Parkland shooting, which left 17 people dead, will be a watershed moment that prompts a powerful divestiture of gun stocks.
Last week, investment research company Morningstar released a guide to help people check if the index funds that manage their retirement plans own any gun stocks. Three of the publicly traded gun companies — American Outdoor Brands, Sturm Ruger and Vista Outdoors ― are in several major stock indexes.
Index funds invest massive amounts of money at a time and often end up being one of the largest shareholders in companies they buy, especially when the companies aren’t that big. Morningstar noted that the $700 billion Vanguard Total Stock Market Index put a mere 0.01 percent of its assets in American Outdoor Brands, but that resulted in a 2.4 percent stake in the company.
Jon Hale, Morningstar’s director of sustainable investing research, said that while the index fund ownership stake is considerable, that stake becomes tiny when examined on an individual basis. “Most index investors can rest easy knowing they are not invested in guns in a material way,” he told Business Insider. “But for many, that’s not the point. Any exposure to guns may no longer be acceptable.”
If that’s you, you can check out socially conscious funds on this list.