You Might Be Contributing to the Firearm Industry and Not Know It

This tool will tell you if you’re unknowingly supporting the big business of firearms.

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May 12 2016, 3:51pm

Image: Goodbye Gun Stocks

In the aftermath of a mass shooting, gun violence advocates quickly renew important conversations about how to prevent another tragedy from happening. But what's rarely discussed is that millions of investors might be unknowingly contributing to America's enormous gun industry, via their diversified investment portfolios.

Imagine passionately advocating for the ban of semi-automatic firearms, only to find out the 401(k) your job setup is invested in the very manufacturers responsible for producing them. Goodbye Gun Stocks, a new app and website launched Tuesday, wants to prevent that from happening.

The site quickly and easily informs investors where their money is going, to give you the chance to switch over to funds that are free from gun stocks. Just type in the name of any fund in your 401(k) or other investment account to see if it includes stocks from companies that sell or manufacture firearms. It also recommends similar funds to switch over to that are free from gun stocks, or contain less of them. There are 12,000 funds in the site's database.

According to the app's findings, which are based on Securities and Exchange Commission data, more than 35 percent of the funds they analyzed include gun and ammunition sellers, amounting to $17.3 billion invested in the industry total.

Some of what the site considers to be gun retailers is very broad, and includes places like Walmart, but you can differentiate between retailers and manufacturers on the site.

One important thing to note is that Goodbye Gun Stocks excludes non-retail military weapons companies, so you could still be contributing to the manufacturization of guns intended to be used by the US military overseas.

After President Obama called for stricter regulations following the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in 2012, domestic gun sales soared, and IBISWorld reports that the industry has grown 6.4 percent since 2011. CNBC outlines that sales of guns and ammunition account for $478.4 million in profit each year.

In 2013, the latest full year on record, over 10 million firearms were manufactured in America. There are now more guns in the US than people.

The husband and wife founders behind Goodbye Gun Stocks, Keywon Chung and Michael Shilman, self-funded the project. They began it when Chung was shocked to discover that she was unknowingly invested in Monsanto stock in her 401(k). While they chose a different issue to focus their project on, the sentiment stayed the same.

"Monsanto sparked our discussion of topical investing, but we're more broadly interested. What will it take to provide truly personalized socially responsible investing?" Shilman said over email.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you're invested in a diversified fund, it's likely that your offerings are changing all the time. As Goodbye Gun Stocks points out, just because your fund contained guns at one point, it won't necessarily be invested in them forever (or even tomorrow). The only way to completely prevent investing in guns is to put your money in a socially responsible fund, that explicitly states it doesn't invest in the firearms industry.

For now, Goodbye Gun Stocks is available as a 30-day experiment. You can use the tool here.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that 35 percent of stock funds contained gun retailer or manufacturer stocks. The 35 percent figure is only reflective of the funds that Goodbye Gun Stocks analyzed, and is not necessarily the figure for all funds in the US.