BlackRock may offer gun-free investment funds

NEW YORK - BlackRock (BLK), the world's largest asset management firm, is considering whether to create new investment funds that exclude firearm makers and retailers. The company is a major shareholder in gun manufacturers Sturm Ruger (RGR), American Outdoor Brands (AOBC) and Vista Outdoor (VSTO), though the holdings are indirect.

BlackRock also said it is asking gun makers and retailers how they are responding to the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The move by the firm, which manages over $6 trillion in assets, comes amid a mounting public backlash to the firearms industry following the attack, which left 17 dead.

"Over the past two weeks, we have reached out to our clients to help them understand their exposure to civilian firearms companies," the company said in a statement. "We have a continuing dialogue with many clients and are helping them explore their options for altering or eliminating their firearms exposures."

BlackRock said it holds no direct investments in firearms manufacturers, explaining that those stocks are in equity investment products offered by the firm. The stocks in those funds are picked by third-party index providers, so BlackRock is unable to exclude those shares "regardless of our view of the company," the firm said.

Among the questions BlackRock is asking gun makers is if they require retailers to do background checks or flag unusual orders. Retailers are being asked how much profit they make from firearm sales.

The New York-based company says engaging with the companies "has the greatest potential to drive change."

A number of retailers, including Walmart (WMT) and Dick's Sporting Good's (DKS), have imposed age restrictions on gun purchases since the Florida slaughter. More than a dozen retailers also have sought to distance themselves from the National Rifle Association, which represents the firearms industry, by ending discounts for members of the group.

REI, a nationwide outdoor retailer, said on Friday it will no longer sell the Bell bicycle helmets and Giro ski goggles made by Vista, becoming the second retailer to part ways with the maker of products that also includes guns and ammunition.