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BlackRock poses tough questions for gunmakers and sellers

BOSTON, March 2 (Reuters) - BlackRock Inc, a top shareholder in several gunmakers and weapons retailers, said on Friday it has begun asking those companies tough questions about how well they monitor the sales and use of firearms following a deadly high school shooting in Florida.

The world's largest asset manager, with more than $6 trillion under management, also said it is studying the creation of new index-based portfolios that would exclude gunmakers and retailers, a step that could have major implications for the industry given the firm's big stakes in companies like American Outdoor Brands Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co.

"As it has for many people, the recent tragedy in Florida has driven home for BlackRock the terrible toll from gun violence in America. We believe that this event requires response and action from a wide range of entities across both the public and private sectors," BlackRock said in a note to clients.

BlackRock's comments are among the most detailed response yet from any part of the financial sector, which has been under pressure from clients and safety activists to re-examine relations with the weapons industry after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.

BlackRock Chief Executive Larry Fink in recent years has emphasized the firm's focus on social and governance issues, which along with the company's size has made it a focal point of gun-safety activists.

BlackRock had previously said it would engage with weapons companies, as have other financial firms, including State Street Corp and Bank of America. Other firms have cut marketing ties with the National Rifle Association, including First National Bank of Omaha, which will not renew a contract to issue an NRA-branded Visa card.

Representatives for American Outdoor Brands and Sturm Ruger have not responded to questions about the pressure from shareholders and other firms. Big retailers this week have put in place new restrictions, such as a decision by Dick's Sporting Goods to halt the sale of assault-style rifles and to raise to 21 the minimum age to buy firearms.

In its client note BlackRock said its questions to gunmakers would include whether they require retailers to certify they do background checks and whether they require distributors to disclose regulatory warnings.

For retailers, BlackRock said it is asking questions such as what strategies they use to prevent the misuse of guns, such as limits on bulk purchases. (Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)