By Ross Kerber
(Reuters) - The top executives of gun maker American Outdoor Brands Corp on Tuesday defended their safety efforts in a letter to asset manager BlackRock Inc posted on the website of the maker of Smith & Wesson guns.
American Outdoor Brands and other gun makers have been under pressure from investors including BlackRock for a response after a high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, last month that killed 17 people.
In the letter, American Outdoor Brands' chairman and chief executive officer said public safety priorities should be to enforce existing laws, improve background checks and address mental health challenges.
"The solution is not to take a politically motivated action that has an adverse impact on our company, our employees, our industry, our shareholders, the economies we support and, significantly, the rights of our law abiding customers, but results in no increase in public safety," stated the letter. It is signed by company Chairman Barry Monheit and CEO James Debney.
BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, on Friday said it would press gun makers and weapons retailers in its portfolios to explain how they monitor firearms sales and use, and said it was studying the creation of new index-based portfolios of stocks that would exclude gun makers and retailers.
A BlackRock spokesman on Tuesday said in an e-mail that the firm will continue to engage with firearms makers “to further understand their business policies and practices in order to protect our clients’ investments in them.”
Other companies and financial firms have also been reviewing ties with the weapons industry and the National Rifle Association in the wake of the shooting, amid calls by some groups for investors to go further and divest the stocks altogether.
The letter from American Outdoor Brands, and an accompanying eight-page company memo, amount to one of the industry's first detailed defenses of its practices and may guide a debate over what specific changes investors might seek.
American Outdoor said its distributors face restrictions on who they may sell firearms to, and said it works closely with law enforcement agencies to trace guns used in crimes.
"We believe it is important to tell you that we respect the national debate that is currently underway regarding firearms and safety," Monheit and Debney wrote.
The company said its investors understand the risks the stock poses. "We believe that our stockholders are well aware of the products we manufacture and fully understand the risks associated with investing in a firearms manufacturer," the memo states.
American Outdoor Brands said it is not opposed to smart gun” systems, but it opposes legislation that would require such technology, “especially when it is not yet proven safe and reliable.”
(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Leslie Adler)