The shooting rampage earlier this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put renewed focus on the firearms manufacturing industry—which, along with ammunitions production, accounts for an estimated $17 billion in revenue.
Thousands of students—with those from Parkland, Florida leading the way—have staged walk-outs across the nation to protest the firearms industry, the NRA, and industry’s bought-off politicians. It’s starting to feel like it could be some sort of turning point.
Even corporations are feeling the heat over their ties to the firearms industry. A slew of corporate have ended partnerships with the NRA due to public pressure—United Airlines, Delta Airlines, MetLife, and First National Bank of Omaha among them. Dick’s Sporting Goods, a major firearms retailer, has announced that it is halting all sales of automatic weapons, and both Dick’s and Walmart are raising their minimum age to 21 for all gun buyers.
BlackStone, the powerful private equity firm headed by billionaire Trump ally Stephen Schwarzman, put out an urgent request to the funds it invests with to “detail their ownership in companies that make or sell guns,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
As the Parkland students and others think through questions of strategy, tactics,and targets, it’s worth reflecting on who holds power in—and who profits from—the firearms industry. Who are the billionaires and multi-millionaires that are profiting most off of gun sales in the US? Who are the executives and investors? Who holds power over the decisions that are made within the industry?
Some of these individuals come from the firearms manufacturing and retail industry itself—for example, top executives in the companies that produce and sell the guns. Others come from Wall Street—the hedge fund billionaires and big money managers that invest in the gun companies. Still others come from the big banks that finance the gun companies.
While a lot of focus has been on the NRA, these other corporations and individuals hold a lot of power over the firearms industry. If banks, investors, and retailers felt strongly that the decisions of gun companies were hurting their owns brands, they could exert a lot of leverage—the threat of pulling their credit arrangements and investment stakes, or limiting or ending gun sales—to force change.
Understanding the powerful figures behind the gun industry helps provide a potential path for challenging it. We put together a list to help readers make sense of the different players who are profiting from firearms sales in the US.
The gun manufacturer CEOs
The top executives of the major companies that make guns are the most obvious profiteers. Here are the CEOs of the top US gun manufacturers:
• P. James Debney, CEO of Smith & Wesson. Debney raked in $5.3 million in total compensation in 2017, and $12.5 million from 2015 to 2017. Debney is a big NRA supporter and a member of its “Ring of Freedom,” an elite club for its biggest (read: seven-digit) donors. Debney told the NRA that “it’s more important than ever that we come together in support of the NRA” and that the organization’s efforts “are critical to the future of the country.”
• Anthony Acitelli, CEO of Remington Outdoor. Since Remington is a private company, we don’t know how much Acitelli is compensated—but, given that it’s the second biggest arms manufacturer in the US, with $603 million in sales in 2017, we can be sure it’s a lot. Acitelli is a gun industry lifer—prior to becoming CEO of Remington, he was CEO of Taurus Holdings, the ninth biggest US gun manufacturer. At Taurus, he settled a class-action lawsuit due to the poor quality of its pistols—including that they could discharge when dropped.
• Chris Killoy, CEO of Sturm Ruger. Chris Killoy took over in May 2017 as CEO of Sturm Ruger. Before that he was its chief operating officer. As COO, Killoy took in $2.54 million in total compensation in 2016, and close to $5 million from 2014 to 2016. While it’s unknown how much he’s earning as CEO, his predecessor earned $4.27 million in 2016 and around $8.7 million between 2014 and 2016. Killoy is a huge supporter of the NRA and, like Debney, a member of its Ring of Freedom.
• Christopher T. Metz, CEO of Vista Outdoor. Metz became Vista Outdoor’s CEO in October 2017, so there’s no data yet on his compensation. But according to the company’s proxy filing, his predecessor took over $25 million from 2015 to 2017. Vista Outdoor owns Savage Arms, a major gun manufacturer, and also makes ammunition and gun accessories.
The gun retailer CEOs
A wide range of retailers sell firearms, including assault-style weapons. One major player in the gun retail industry is Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro. Morris, who founded and oversees the Bass Pro retail empire, is worth an estimated $4.3 billion.
Bass Pro doesn’t just sell firearms (including semi-automatic rifles)—it’s expanding its gun retail business. Last year, it acquired Cabela—another major firearms retailer—for around $4 billion. Bass Pro has also received hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, as we detailed in 2010.
Other major gun retailers include Dick’s Sporting Goods and WalMart—whose CEO, Doug McMillon, took in $22.3 million in 2017 and a total of about $61.5 million from 2015 to 2017.
But unlike Bass Pro, WalMart and Dick’s have both stopped selling assault rifles (WalMart did so in 2015), and both are now raising the age to 21 for its gun buyers. It will be interesting to see if Bass Pro responds to the pressure to do the same.
Gun manufacturers and retailers couldn’t exist on the scale that they do without the backing of major banks. Wall Street CEOs like Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and others are tied to—and profiting from—the firearms industry.
Banks that offer lines of credit to major firearms companies include:
• Goldman Sachs has been a big backer of Bass Pro. In 2016 it bought $1.8 billion of Bass Pro stock to help finance the acquisition of Cabela.
• Bank of America has a $40 million line of credit with Sturm Ruger. Interestingly, the credit agreement expires on June 15, 2018—a few months from now. Given that Bank of America is feeling the heat over its financing of the gun industry, this could be an opportunity for people to pressure it to not renew the credit agreement.
• TD Bank, Branch Bank & Trust, Regions Bank, and Wells Fargo have a $350 million line of credit with the Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation.
And there are more—earlier this week, ThinkProgress published a list of 16 banks financing firearms manufacturers: Bank of Montreal, Berkshire Bank, Branch Bank & Trust (BB&T), Capital One, Citizens Financial Group, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley Bank, MUFG Bank, Northern Trust Company, People’s United Bank, Regions Bank, Stifel Bank & Trust, TD Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.
The hedge fund CEOs
Another group of firearms profiteers are billionaire hedge fund managers. One example is Stephen Feinberg, the CEO of Cerberus Capital, a hedge fund that manages around $30 billion in assets.
Cerberus owns Remington Outdoors, the second biggest US gun manufacturer. Remington recently filed for bankruptcy and is being restructured, but Cerberus still controls it. In the process of the company’s restructuring, its creditors will become owners—these include Franklin Templeton Investments and JPMorgan Chase Asset Management. As the restructuring moves forward, it will be interesting to see who ends up buying stakes in Cerberus and what direction they take the company related to its production of assault rifles.
Feinberg is worth around $1.6 billion. He’s been a big donor to the NRA, and, as a long profile of him in New York Magazine shows, he has long been enamoured with firearms. Feinberg is also close to Donald Trump. He was a member of Trump’s Economic Advisory Council (which disbanded amidst the controversy surrounding Trump’s sympathetic remarks for white supremacists after Charlottesville). Feinberg also gave $678,800 to Trump at a fundraiser.
Cerberus owns DynCorp, a major defense contractor. Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly was a paid $166,000 a year to serve as an “advisor” to the company before he entered in the administration. Major pension funds also invest through with Cerberus—for example, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the Florida State Board of Administration—and college endowments.
Feinberg and Cerberus also own chunks of major companies where millions of people shop, including Avon, Staples, and Albertsons.
Another hedge fund manager who has profited off the firearms industry is Paul Singer, the head of Elliott Management, which manages $33 billion in assets. Singer himself is worth around $2.8 billion. Singer and Elliott Management at one point owned 6 million shares of gun retailer Cabela—they held over 11 percent of the company in late 2015. After Singer pressured Cabela to sell itself to rival gun retailer Bass Pro, Singer sold a chunk of its shares, profiting to to the tune of $90 million.
Other hedge funds remain invested in the gun industry. For example, Renaissance Technologies—which until recently was headed up by Trump and Breitbart benefactor Robert Mercer—owns about 1.19 percent (around $11.5 million) of Sturm Ruger. Point72 Asset Management—run by Steven Cohen, who until this month had been banned for two years from running hedge funds due to insider trading that went on in SAC Capital, his old firm—owns about 1.8 percent (around $12.4 million) of American Outdoor Brands and about 0.54 percent (around $5.2 million) of Sturm Ruger.
The money managers
Another group that profits from the gun industry are the high-powered asset managers that invest trillions of dollars into hundreds of companies through a range of funds. Hundreds of thousands of people and institutions do business with these firms, and they are often some of the largest beneficial owners of publicly-traded companies—indeed, they own a stake in almost everything. They have a lot of leverage if they choose to use it.
Some CEOs of huge money managers invested in gun manufacturers and retailers include:
• Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock. BlackRock is a giant asset manager that manages $6 trillion in assets. CEO Larry Fink earned over $25 million in total compensation in 2016 and pulled in a total $75 million between 2014 and 2016. All told, BlackRock owns a total of almost $350 million of three major publicly traded gun corporations: 16.9 percent of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $165 million; 11.1 percent of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $77 million; and 12.7 percent of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $106 million. BlackRock reportedly “has questions” for the gun industry now, and as we’ve noted before, Fink has called upon fellow CEOs to be more socially responsible. But Fink and BlackRock—who are currently big investors in private prisons, fossil fuels, vulture banks, and arms manufacturers—have a long way to go on this.
• Tim Buckley, CEO of Vanguard Group. Vanguard Group manages $5 trillion in assets. Tim Buckley recently became Vanguard’s CEO at the end of 2017. Vanguard has tried to keep its management compensation a secret, but one report said that its CEO earned $10 to $15 million in 2015. Vanguard has owns over $225 million of three big publicly traded gun companies: 9.5 percent of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $93 million; 8.3 percent of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $58 million; and 9.1 percent of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $76 million. In November 2017, Buckley was explicit about playing down the importance of “morals” when investing. If you “create the sin factor,” he said, you increase the likelihood that “you will underperform in the long run” (he used Philip Morris—who “has done pretty well, above the market”—as an example). With close to a quarter-billion invested in gun companies, he is living up to his investment philosophy.
• Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments. Fidelity oversees around $2.3 trillion in assets. As Fidelity CEO, Abigail Johnson is inheriting the family business. Her grandfather founded the firm in 1946, and her father had a long run as CEO too. Abigail Johnson owns around a quarter of the firm and is reportedly worth a whopping $16.8 billion. Fidelity owns 8,570,173 shares of Vista Outdoor—about 15 percent of the company—worth around $125 million. This makes Fidelity the largest beneficial owner of Vista Outdoor.
• Martin Flanagan, CEO of Invesco. Invesco manages nearly $1 trillion in assets. CEO Martin Flanagan Flanagan took in $14.6 million in total compensation in 2016 and about $46 million between 2014 and 2016. Invesco has major holdings in three big publicly traded gun companies worth about $104 million in total: 9 percent of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $62 million; 3.3 percent of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $32 million; and 1.2 percent of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $10 million. All told, Invesco owns around 6.13 million shares of the three companies for a total of In 2016, Flanagan was the highest paid CEO in the state of Georgia—which includes the corporate headquarters of several major corporations. He lives in a lavish mansion in one of Atlanta’s wealthiest districts.
While some billionaire investors like Warren Buffet think it would be “ridiculous” to not do business with gun manufacturers, others—like those on this list, especially those from the Wall Street and the big retailers—may be more open to popular pressure to follow the example of the corporations that have begun to loosen their ties with the gun industry.
Derek Seidman is a research analyst at the Public Accountability Initiative. LittleSis, where this article first appeared, is a grassroots network that connects the dots between the world’s most powerful people and institutions.