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National Rifle Association members look over optics in the SIG Sauer display Scott Olson/Getty Images

Are Guns the Next Target for Conscientious Investors?

The gun-control debate in the US is a long and bitter one. But activism by investors and companies in the wake of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, may finally bring about real change.

LONDON – On the morning of September 11, 2001, standing in a conference room in France full of institutional investors from around the world – representing pension, sovereign-wealth, and corporate funds – I spoke about the emergence of an important, but not yet fully recognized, new trend: investing with a conscience. The audience scoffed, to put it mildly. Investing was all about returns.

That afternoon, airplanes struck the World Trade Center, and everything changed. In the days that followed, as the full magnitude of the horror set in, the same people who were skeptical came back to talk to me about investing with a sense of direction and purpose, and in ways that would contribute to something bigger than the bottom line. The investment community had begun to transform its thinking.

In that conference room, I described how investors had opposed apartheid by divesting from South African companies, with state pension funds and others including provisions in their guidelines prohibiting further such investment. Those provisions were withdrawn only in 1993, after Nelson Mandela urged foreign investors to return.

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