Maker of Smith & Wesson guns responds to BlackRock on product safety, business practices

  • The CEO of American Outdoor Brands says the company respects "the national debate that is currently underway regarding firearms and safety."
  • BlackRock asked the maker of Smith & Wesson guns to meet to talk about business practices and firearm safety.

The maker of Smith & Wesson guns released written responses to questions about its products and business practices after the fund giant BlackRock requested a meeting with company executives.

"We believe it is important to tell you that we respect the national debate that is currently underway regarding firearms and safety," James Debney, the CEO of American Outdoor Brands, wrote in a letter Tuesday to BlackRock.

Since a shooting at a Florida high school last month that left 17 people dead, there has been an intensifying public debate about the role gun makers and gun sellers play in gun safety. Several retailers, including Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart now restrict gun sales to those aged 21 and over and Dick's removed items from shelves.

But there have been calls for major public pensions and big fund companies, as shareholders of gun makers, to use that influence to put pressure on them to change. Last week BlackRock told its own customers in a three-page report it made public that it was trying to talk to gun makers about their products.

BlackRock, normally not an activist despite being a major stock investor, said it could use its power to vote against directors or vote to support shareholder proposals if its engagement efforts with management were less than satisfactory.

American Brands, the parent of Smith & Wesson, submitted the written questions in a nine-page letter in response to BlackRock's request for a meeting last week.

"We share the nation's grief over the incomprehensible and senseless loss of life at Parkland, Florida, and we share the desire to make our communities safer," Debney wrote in the letter to BlackRock. But, he said, the focus should be on enforcing existing laws, addressing mental illness, and improving the background check system.

WATCH: BlackRock talking with clients about exposure to gun stocks