Gun Investments: A Moral Dilemma?

Greg is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel asked six mutual fund companies to sell off stock holdings in gun manufacturing companies Sturm, Ruger & Company (NYSE: RGR) and Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ: SWHC).  City officials in other major cities around the U.S. have considered taking similar action in addressing gun holdings in their pension funds. With gun violence taking center stage after the Newtown, CT tragedy, it’s tempting for many investors to make a moral statement with their investment portfolios. But is that really a prudent financial decision?

Why Gun Companies Make Good Investments

No matter what your views on gun control, gun manufacturers aren’t going anywhere, for two reasons. First, the goal of most gun lobbyists isn’t to eliminate guns altogether. It’s simply to put restrictions on them for safety reasons. That means guns will still be bought and sold by private citizens, as long as they adhere to the regulations. Second, guns are necessary for the military and law enforcement. Even gun bans such as the one proposed for assault rifles would not affect military purchases, meaning that these weapons will still be manufactured and sold.

Over the past decade, Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger have both realized significantly higher returns than the broader market (17% and 23% respectively). Fund companies and 401k managers must make decisions based on the best interests of their clients. If a social issue like gun control has the potential to affect the value of the stock long-term, then those companies must consider that in their buying and selling decisions. However, selling off a stock simply to send a message to a gun company isn’t always possible, or even desirable.

Where Gun Stocks are Heading

The recent frenzied demand for guns has resulted in excellent growth for Smith & Wesson. But they aren’t the only ones benefiting. Cabela’s (NYSE: CAB), one of the nation’s leading gun retailers, has reported 9.2% greater sales for the third quarter over last year’s third quarter sales. Most investors expect the company to continue realizing significant growth based on current buyer behavior. The question that must be asked in light of such exponential growth is whether or not it’s sustainable. Can gun buyers continue to purchase at their current rate over the long term, or are we about to see the gun bubble burst?

The current market looks great for purchasing. Euphoric gun buying behavior continues to drive prices up, creating the perfect climate for investors. Keep in mind, however, that average gun buyers are in stocking up mode, purchasing guns and ammo at a heightened rate in light of the push for greater purchasing restrictions. That suggests that the growth we’re seeing now can’t be sustained for the long term. However, gun sales have consistently grown at a steady rate of between 4% and 5% since 1982, and it’s likely that we’ll still see steady (but slower) growth over time.

What About the Assault Weapons Ban?

The proposed ban on assault weapons faces some serious opposition in Congress. Republicans are against the ban altogether, and many Democrats must answer to pro-gun constituents back home, which has created some opposition even among those in favor of more gun control. It’s unlikely that a total ban will be passed, leaving plenty of room for Smith & Wesson to continue manufacturing and selling its money-making models.

Should Morals Affect Gun Stock Purchases?

At the end of the day, only you can decide whether you want to invest in a gun manufacturing company. However, be aware that most mutual funds will not make a distinction. They’ll simply make the purchases they believe to be best for the fund based on current market conditions. Some companies, such as Vanguard, do make an effort to invest based on moral criteria, at least for certain funds, so if you want to avoid gun investments, one of these companies may be for you.


copyhubwriters has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Sturm, Ruger & Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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