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December 19, 2012

Investors turn against gun makers

MINNEAPOLIS — Investors shunned some of the nation’s largest gun makers Tuesday, putting up for sale the manufacturer of the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle used in the Connecticut school shooting and worrying that the attack could soon bring stricter gun laws.

Stocks of other gun companies fell, and one sporting-goods chain said it would temporarily stop sales of military-style firearms. In Washington, some former opponents of gun control signaled that they may change their position, potentially giving stricter gun laws their best chance of passage in years.

The most notable rejection of the gun industry came when the private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced it would sell the maker of the rifle used in the massacre, which it called a “watershed event.”

The shooting “raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,” Cerberus said in a news release. “We are investors, not statesmen or policy makers.”

In an acknowledgment of the changing political climate, the National Rifle Association promised “to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” It scheduled a Friday news conference.

Bushmaster, Remington and DPMS are among the brands made by Freedom Group Inc., the largest firearms maker in the U.S.

The Madison, N.C., company sold 1.1 million rifles and shotguns last year, along with 2 billion rounds of ammunition. Its customers include law enforcement and military agencies, as well as retailers who serve hunters and gun enthusiasts.

Cerberus, a large private-equity firm best known for investing in Chrysler and other troubled corporations, appeared to have been under pressure from two sources: investors and the threat of more gun control.

Officials at California’s huge teacher pension fund said they were reviewing a $600 million investment in Cerberus in light of the Connecticut shooting. Through its stake in Cerberus, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System owns a 2.4 percent stake in Freedom Group.

Pension fund spokesman Michael Sicilia confirmed the fund owns about $4 million in shares of Sturm Ruger & Co. and $1.7 million in Smith and Wesson.

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