Friday, December 28

Shooting gunmaker to be sold by Cerberus

Allison Linn , NBC News

A major private equity firm has decided that putting its clients’ money into a company that makes assault-type weapons isn’t a wise strategy.

At the same time a large sporting goods chain has said that, at least for now, it would not sell those types of weapons.

The decisions came as pressure rises for the government to do something about the proliferation of assault-type weapons that have been used in several recent mass shootings.

Cerberus Capital Management said Tuesday, after discussions with investors, that it would sell its stake in Freedom Group, a major weapons producer whose portfolio includes such well-known gun brands as Remington and Bushmaster Firearms.

Bushmaster made the AR-15 type weapon used in the Newtown shooting, in which 20 children, six or seven years old, and six staff were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gunman also killed his mother and himself.

Cerberus said in a statement that it believes its role is to make investments for its clients, not shape policy debate, but that there are actions a company can take.

“We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so,” the company said in a statement posted on its website.

Freedom Group reported net sales of more than $677 million for the nine months ended September 30, according to its website. That compares with sales of $564.6 million for the same nine-month period a year earlier.

Cerberus has more than $20 billion in assets under management and makes investments on behalf of investors including pension plans for teachers and other municipal workers.

The California State Teachers Retirement System had been re-evaluating its investment in Cerberus following the Newtown shooting.

Spokesman Michael Sicilia told NBC News Tuesday that the fund made initial investments of $600 million in Cerberus in 2003 and 2007. It owns an approximately 2.4 percent stake in Freedom Group as part of that investment, he said.

Sicilia said the large teachers’ pension fund had committed in 2008 to start looking at its investments through the lens of environmental, social and other criteria.

Now, he said, the company was looking back at investments made before the 2008 decision, such as the Cerberus investment.

“I think going forward CalSTRS will work to ensure that all investments are taking in account these important considerations,” he said.

Separately, Dick’s Sporting Goods also said Tuesday that it would temporary stop selling guns at a store near Newtown and suspend the sale of “modern sporting rifles” for all stores nationwide.

The company did not immediately respond to repeated requests to clarify what specific guns it would not sell or how long the suspension would last.

“We are extremely saddened by the unspeakable tragedy that occurred last week in Newtown, CT, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and to the entire community,” Dick’s said in a statement.

Politicians and thought leaders across the nation seem to be re-evaluating their stances on gun ownership in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and other mass shootings in Colorado, Arizona and elsewhere.

President Barack Obama said Sunday that he would lead an effort to prevent tragedies such as the one in Newtown, and other traditionally pro-gun Democrats seem willing to rethink the nation's gun laws.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a briefing with reporters Tuesday that President Obama would support a Congressional effort to reinstate an assault weapons ban and to close any loopholes related to gun shows. But he also noted that gun control legislation alone will not solve violent crime problems.

Others, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an Independent, have been even more forceful in calling for major changes to prevent more gun violence.

Any effort to curtail gun sales could be a blow to companies that manufacture and sell such weapons. Shares in Smith and Wesson Holding Company have fallen by about 19 percent since the close of trading on the Thursday before the Newtown shooting. Shares in Sturm Ruger and Co. are down about 13 percent over that time period.

Neither company saw shares have such significant drops in the days following the mass shooting at a movie theater in Colorado last July.

Still, Second Amendment rights are held dear to many Americans, and not all politicians or corporations appeared to be making any immediate changes.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said Tuesday that the major retailer had no immediate plans to change its sales strategy.

“We don’t sell guns online and we have made no change to the assortment of guns we sell in our stores,” Lundberg wrote in an e-mail.

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