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Last week's gun massacre at a Connecticut elementary school is putting pressure on some businesses to decide what to do about their investments in the firearms industry. Well, today, the private equity group Cerberus Capital Management said it is getting out of the gun business. You might remember Cerberus as the firm that bought and then sold Chrysler Motors a few years ago. It also has a controlling stake in the country's largest gun and ammunitions maker. And now, it will be selling that investment. Here's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Just as Cerberus, the mythic dog, has multiple heads, the private equity firm named after it is in many industries. It controls $20 billion in investments in companies like Albertson's grocery chain and international banks. And in 2006, the private equity firm started amassing stakes in several gun makers.
The umbrella company is called Freedom Group, itself not a brand name but one that owns some of the best-known brands: Remington, Marlin and Bushmaster, which makes the semiautomatic rifle police say Adam Lanza used on Friday to kill his victims.
NIMA SAMADI: These are among some of the longest-tenured guns and ammunition manufacturing brands in the U.S.
NOGUCHI: Nima Samadi is a senior analyst who follows the gun industry for IBIS World. He says gun sales surged in the last five years to a $12 billion industry. The anticipation of stricter gun laws under a Democratic administration helped spur gun sales, especially earlier this year. Samadi says Cerberus owns about 95 percent of Freedom Group. He says there's still lots of money to be made in the industry but...
SAMADI: This is a very emotional issue for a lot of people. It's not an issue where people are simply going to look at the dollars and cents of it.
NOGUCHI: And in fact, for Cerberus, the shootings appeared to strike home. This morning, the company released a statement saying, in part: It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.
Cerberus said it would retain advisers to help sell its stake then return those proceeds to its investors. It did not respond to requests seeking comment. It cited in its press release that it was divesting to avoid being drawn into the national debate over gun control.
Cerberus' exit comes a day after one of its big investors, California State Teachers' Retirement System, asked Cerberus to divest in Freedom Group. Bill Lockyer is a former California attorney general and now the state treasurer.
BILL LOCKYER: Whether that was their conscience being pricked by the tragedies or recalculating risks with respect to these types of investments, probably it's a little of both, and I'm just glad of the outcome.
NOGUCHI: Lockyer notes California pension funds have a long history of social investing: It pulled investments out of South Africa during apartheid, it doesn't place investments in Iran or in tobacco companies, and, Lockyer says, makers of guns belong on that list. But, Lockyer says, figuring out what exactly the pensions are invested in is not always easy.
LOCKYER: What gets complicated is they'll invest a large amount of money in a fund of funds, and then we have to go and figure out all the holdings of the subsequent fund. It's not direct investment that we're talking about.
NOGUCHI: Lockyer says CalPERS, the public employees union, is also in the process of trying to figure out whether it has gun-related investments.
LOCKYER: I don't think anyone thinks this is going to end gun violence. But it's an important policy to make a principled statement about it.
NOGUCHI: Meanwhile, money management firm Vanguard Group said today it cannot change the makeup of its index funds and divest its shares in gun makers. It said it cannot satisfy the social concerns of all its investors. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.