Gays Against Guns Protests Inside Firm's Headquarters, Says It Profits From Gun Sales

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Gays Against Guns today staged a die-in and a protest to "publicly shame" BlackRock, an investment firm, into dropping what the organization refers to as "gunstocks."

The "gunstocks" referred to are Sturm Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., two manufacturers of guns that were used in mass shootings. BlackRock holds 3.1 percent of the shares of Smith & Wesson and 6.7 percent of Sturm Ruger, reports Time magazine

In a statement posted by Gays Against Guns, the group says, "BlackRock PROFITS FROM MASS MURDER." Gays Against Guns reported that weapons from Smith & Wesson have been used in seven mass shootings since 2007, including those that saw 12 people killed in 2012 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and 14 people killed in 2015 in San Bernardino, Calif.

The group's die-in was staged inside the Manhattan offices of BlackRock, where 12 members dressed in all white with veils covering their faces to honor the memories of the 12 victims in Aurora. 

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When reached for comment, BlackRock sent The Advocate a statement that has already been published on several news websites. "BlackRock values diversity and has a history of supporting the LGBT community," the statement read. "We condemn senseless acts of violence in any form including the recent tragedy in Orlando."

The massacre in Orlando killed 49 people in an LGBT nightclub and became the rallying point for the formation Gays Against Guns. The group staged its first die-in remembering those victims during New York Pride. That event led to the birth of chapters all over the country.

With the emailed statement, BlackRock made the case it's pro-LGBT by sending a fact sheet showing it was recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as a "Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality." The fact sheet also included information about how BlackRock supported a friend of the court brief in the case against the Defense of Marriage Act at the Supreme Court, along with mentioning that the company provides health benefits to same-sex domestic partners and spouses.

But as its main response to Gays Against Guns, BlackRock is making the case that the company bears no responsibility for investing in gun manufacturers because of the way it purchases stocks.

"The stocks of firearm manufacturers are included in a variety of stock indexes, and third-party providers determine which companies are included in those indexes," the statement read. "When clients choose to invest in those indexes, we are required to replicate the indexes. BlackRock’s investment teams are not actively choosing to invest client funds in these companies."

Bloomberg reporter Michael Regan said the Gays Against Guns protest exposed an "interesting side effect" in how BlackRock makes money as an asset manager — doing so on "the blockbuster trend of passive index-based investing." The bottomline, Regan wrote, is "When your investment strategy is simply to buy the entire market, as reflected by a benchmark index, you end up buying it warts and all. (Regardless of what you personally consider the warts.)"

When asked if there are any stocks that BlackRock ever advises its clients against investing in, a spokesman told The Advocate, "Different portfolios have different mandates that specify which types of stocks that may or may not be included in the funds. Some portfolios can only invest in companies that pay a dividend, some can only invest in companies that have low carbon footprints."

The spokesman cited one fund in which the company "proactively" excludes investments in companies involved in tobacco or controversial weapons manufacturing, or even in companies with "very severe business controversies."

"We do provide clients with customized portfolios that are seeking to have their values reflected in their investments, by removing firearms, tobacco and alcohol manufacturers," the company told The Advocate in a statement. "Those clients have entrusted us with approximately $200 billion."

So far, Gays Against Guns appears unmoved by the BlackRock explanation. On its website, the group wrote, "It's time the curtain was pulled back on the lesser known key players who are equally complicit in gun violence and, by extension, conduits for death."

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