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BlackRock outlines questions for weapons manufacturers, distributors

Just more than a week after BlackRock (BLK) announced that it would be engaging with weapons manufacturers and distributors to learn about their response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the world's largest money manager followed up on Friday with a list of questions that it was asking major gun-makers and retailers.

The questions, posted on BlackRock's website, ask gun manufacturers and distributors what their strategies are for "managing the reputational, financial and litigation risk" associated with making and selling civilian firearms; whether they were investing in research and development to ensure the safe use of their products; and what their policies were for determining who can buy the products, among other questions.

BlackRock, which has previously pointed out that its role as a passive manager limits its ability to sell off individual company holdings, maintained Friday that it would continue to work with clients that wanted to exclude from their portfolios investments in firearms manufacturers or distributors. Clients already have the option of investing in strategies that use social criteria to screen out firearms and other companies, BlackRock said, adding that it is "exploring ideas for new funds, including index-based portfolios that exclude just firearms manufacturers and retailers."

BlackRock is the largest shareholder in firearms manufacturers American Outdoor Brands Corp. and Sturm Ruger & Co., and among the largest shareholders in Vista Outdoor Inc., according to Bloomberg data. The AR-15 rifle that was used in the Parkland, Fla., shooting is manufactured by Smith & Wesson, a subsidiary of American Outdoor Brands.

BlackRock refrained from providing specifics of its discussions with the companies and their responses, but said on its website Friday that it has already had "constructive discussions" with some of its portfolio companies and is "continuing to pursue" engagement with them all.

BlackRock has so far declined to comment publicly on whether the firm would be voting on any of the gun safety shareholder proposals filed by religious investors at Sturm Ruger and AOB this proxy season, provided they make it onto the companies' proxy ballots.

In recent days, Dick's Sporting Goods Inc., Walmart Inc. and Kroger Co. have announced changes to their firearms sale policies, including raising the age requirement to purchase firearms to 21 years of age.

BlackRock said on Friday that it would continue to monitor these companies to assess their policies.