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US-based Episcopal Church uses shareholder activism to challenge gun sale practices

Posted on: March 1, 2018 2:49 PM
Students protest against gun crime in Washington DC following last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, said that students are “asking us as a country to rise up and lay down our differences to work together to make our schools safe, to make our streets safe, to make our country safe”.
Photo Credit: WIkimedia / Lorie Shaull

A major US-retailer, Dick’s Sporting Goods, has announced that it is to stop selling assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and would no longer sell firearms to anyone younger than 21. The US-based Episcopal Church, a shareholder in Dick’s, had recently joined with other Christian investors to engage the store in dialogue about its gun sales.

The Episcopal Church does not invest in gun manufacturers but it does own shares in Dick’s Sporting Goods. The Chair of the Church’s corporate and social responsibility committee (CCSR), the Revd Brian Grieves, said that the Church has never purchased stock for the sole purpose of engaging in a shareholder action, but was involved in effort to convince Dick’s to change its policies. The Executive Council approved the committee’s involvement in January, and the Episcopal Church joined with five Roman Catholic groups to lobby the store’s directors to abide by “the Sandy Hook Principles” – developed to stem the tide of gun violence after 20 six- seven-year-old children, and six adults, were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

In addition to announcing its restrictions on sales, Dick’s also called on elected officials to ban assault-style firearms, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks; raise the legal minimum age to purchase firearms to 21; require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with law enforcement; build what it called a “complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms”; and close the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks.

All of the company’s actions and its message to government officials fit into the Sandy Hook Principles.

The shareholder activism of the Episcopal Church and other religious institutional investors was not the sole cause of Dick’s decision, but those involved say it had some influence on a company that was considering a change.

In July 2017, investment managers working for the church groups, Mercy Investment Services, wrote to Dick’s chairman and chief executive, Ed Stack, asking the company to report on any actions it had taken “on elements such as those based on Sandy Hook Principles.” After receiving no response, the Episcopal Church and its Roman Catholic partners filed a shareholder resolution through the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

“They finally responded to that, and were agreeable to a dialogue” Grieves said. “It was a very productive and very good meeting and they seemed to be very interested in having good procedures in place for how they sell these weapons. And so, in order to continue that dialogue we agreed to withdraw” the shareholder resolution.”

The store acted when it discovered that the suspect in the shooting of 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month had purchased a gun from Dick’s. It wasn’t the gun used in the massacre, but “that knowledge moved the company to action,” stack said.

In a separate move, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has released a video endorsing two sets of resources to encourage church members to participate in the “national dialogue” on gun control.

“The young people of Stoneman Douglas High School have reminded us that those who have survived stand for those who gave their lives,” he said. “And in memory of them, and for children in schools all over the country, they are asking us, imploring us, and challenging us, to find a better way. They are asking us as a country to rise up and lay down our differences to work together to make our schools safe, to make our streets safe, to make our country safe, for all of God’s Children and all of God's people.”

The resources include material produced by the Church’s Office of Government Relations as part of the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s campaign for a ban on assault weapons, and in opposition to the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.

It also includes material produced by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, which campaigns across the States for gun control.

  • This report is based in part on a longer report by Mary Frances Schjonberg for the Episcopal News Service.