In this case, political power isn’t growing out of the barrel of a gun. It’s coming from growing a stock portfolio.
A grassroots organization has slowly purchased shares in one of the nation’s leading gun manufacturers, hoping to hold the company accountable for illegal gun activity across the country.
On Tuesday, two dozen people gathered inside of the Chicago Sinai Congregation, 15 W. Delaware Pl., to listen in to American Outdoor Brands Corporation’s annual board meeting. The group listened intently before breaking out in cheers as the corporation, which produces the popular Smith & Wesson firearm, passed a resolution forcing the board to increase its gun safety measures.
“It was clear the only way to really engage the manufacturer of guns — guns that are used in mass shootings — is to be an investor and an owner.” Alec Harris, 55, said. “Through my ownership, I try to impact the decisions this company makes.”
The Do Not Stand Idly By campaign, launched by faith leaders and citizens part of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, wants to put the onus on the gun manufacturers to ensure their highest priority is on safety and responsible sales from distributors. The nation-wide campaign bypasses the legislature to curb gun violence by buying up shares in the leading gun manufacturers. Once a person has shares in the company, they are given a voice to influence the direction the company moves in.
“I’ve been working on gun violence issues for many years, and I just lost faith in our legislatures to change things,” Harris said. “We have to rely on other ways to be impactful.”
After the resolution passed Tuesday, the manufacturer’s president James Debney accused the shareholders of pushing a political agenda. He said this type of action was beyond the company’s responsibility, and it should remain up to the country’s lawmakers to make these kinds of decisions.
“As a shareholder, I believe very strongly, that if they engage with the issue of gun violence seriously, it’s going to result in better sales and therefore increase the value of their stock,” Harris said.
The resolution forces the gun manufacturer to produce reports monitoring violent events associated with one of their products. It also makes the company engage in research to produce safer guns and products such as “smart guns” — a gun that only allows an authorized user to fire the weapon through technology such as fingerprint recognition. Finally, it calls for an assessment of the financial risk the company faces because of gun violence in the country.
The Do Not Stand Idly By campaign has also earned the backing from the Major Cities Chiefs Association — an association of police chiefs and sheriffs in the largest cities in the country. Park Ridge’s Chief Frank Kaminski also listened in with shareholders and supports their mission to set plan to minimize harm from the manufacture’s guns. Chicago Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) was also in attendance.
“I think it’s important that we as a city and a nation do everything we can to stop gun violence,” Smith said. “This is an approach that doesn’t rely on congressional-majorities in Congress. This is an approach that reaches directly to the manufacturer of guns.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.