Advocates for divesting from the firearms industry got a boost from Wall Street titan George Soros last week. The billionaire investor is in a strong position to make such a call: He's one of the leading financiers of the gun control movement, and the fund he leads recently owned a piece of the firearms industry.
On Thursday, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Soros expressed interest in the divestment idea. Asked by International Business Times if investors who support gun control should sell their holdings in firearms companies, Soros responded: "I’m very much against guns. And if it can be organized on a large enough scale, I wouldn’t be opposed to it."
Securities and Exchange Commission filings reviewed by IBT show Soros Fund Management as a top institutional shareholder in Vista Outdoors — considered the country’s top ammunition manufacturer — and Olin Corp., which makes ammo under the Winchester name. Soros Fund Management purchased a stake in Vista in early 2015 and possessed $11.4 million worth of shares in the company at the end of September, the most recent time the firm reported its holdings. Soros’ firm appears to have bought $5.2 million worth of Olin shares between July and September.
He is not alone among Democratic Party supporters in investing in the firearms industry. Many of the biggest Wall Street donors to President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — who have both called for stricter gun regulations — are among the largest institutional investors in guns and ammunition manufacturers. While the American Federation of Teachers, a key part of the Democratic electoral coalition, has backed gun control proposals, some of the pension savings of its members may be invested in the firearms industry. For example, the California State Teachers' Retirement System — which has divested from assault weapons manufacturers — owned $7 million worth of shares in Vista and Olin as of September.
Soros, a billionaire, has been a significant supporter of gun control. In 1998, he funded, through his foundation, an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against gun manufacturers with the claim that negligent marketing had contributed to illegal weapons trafficking. His 2004 book slammed then-President George W. Bush’s anti-gun-control positions. And over the years, Soros has given millions to organizations that have called for new restrictions on guns, including $50,000 to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; $7.3 million to the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank that has published many reports arguing for gun control; and $2 million to a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton’s White House bid, during which she has stressed the need to reform gun laws.
Soros’ investment in ammunition stocks does not appear to have been lucrative so far. Although the recent spate of mass shootings spurred gun enthusiasts to spend record amounts stocking up on arms, Soros Fund Management’s bet on ammo manufacturers may not be paying huge dividends. Vista’s stock jumped more than 3 percent after Obama announced new background check regulations, but its price is up roughly the same amount since March, when Soros’ firm first reported owning shares in the company. Olin's stock is down over 14 percent since September.
A spokesperson for Soros Fund Management declined to comment on the firm’s holdings, citing company policy. But Soros’ fund has sold most of its Vista holdings and no longer owns Olin stock, according to a source familiar with the companies.
In 2011, an email chain letter circulated among the right claimed that Soros was controlling a hedge fund buying gun and ammunition manufacturers and wanted to "restrict or ban all civilian guns.” The email was false and widely shared. The National Rifle Association condemned it and urged its members not to pass along a rumor that had “caused a great deal of unnecessary concern for gun owners.”
But for all of the worry from gun owners that Soros might try to keep weapons out of their hands, a firm run by Soros purchased shares in ammunition companies last year without causing any stir.
The ammunition interests aren’t the only investments of Soros Fund Management that have failed to align with its chairman's political leanings. Despite his calling coal a “lethal bullet” to the climate and investing his money in clean-energy technology, his firm purchased stakes in Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. Soros’ fund appears to have sold shares in those companies quickly.
David Sirota and John Osborne contributed to this report.