Trinity Wall Street is heading to court over its shareholder proposal to require Walmart to examine more closely its decisions about gun sales.
The Atlantic and Forbes are both reporting on the church’s shareholder proposal first submitted to Walmart in December 2013 for inclusion in its 2014 Annual Shareholders’ Meeting. The proposed resolution follows:
Stockholders request that the Board amend the Compensation, Nominating and Governance Committee charter (or add an equivalent provision to another Board committee charter) as follows:
”27. Providing oversight concerning the formulation and implementation of, and the public reporting of the formulation and implementation of, policies and standards that determine whether or not the Company should sell a product that:
1) especially endangers public safety and well-being;
2) has the substantial potential to impair the reputation of the Company; and/or
3) would reasonably be considered by many offensive to the family and community values integral to the Company’s promotion of its brand.”
This oversight and reporting is intended to cover policies and standards that would be applicable to determining whether or not the company should sell guns equipped with magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition (“high capacity magazines”) and to balancing the benefits of selling such guns against the risks that these sales pose to the public and to the Company’s reputation and brand value.
Trinity’s Rector, Wardens, and Vestry submitted a statement of support along with the proposal, stating in part that,
The company respects family and community interests by choosing not to sell certain products such as music that depicts violence or sex and high capacity magazines separately from a gun, but lacks policies and standards to ensure transparent and consistent merchandizing decisions across product categories. This results in the company’s sale of products, such as guns equipped with high capacity magazines, that facilitate mass killings, even as it prohibits sales of passive products such as music that merely depict such violent rampages.
The example of guns equipped with high capacity magazines, which are on sale at the company’s stores, is instructive in other ways. There is a substantial question regarding whether these guns are well suited to hunting or shooting sports; it is beyond doubt that they are well suited to mass killing, and tragically more effective for the latter purpose, than are the handguns equipped to fire ten or fewer rounds that the company chooses not to sell except in Alaska. The former reduce opportunities for people to flee or overwhelm a shooter during reloading and have enabled many mass killings, including those at Newtown, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech and Columbine.
Forbes reports that the massacre of schoolchildren and others at Newtown, Connecticut was a primary motivating factor in Trinity’s decision to use its shareholder status to pressure Walmart into looking at its gun sales oversight, although it says that the Rector, the Rev. Dr. James Cooper, is not seeking a ban on gun sales.
“Somebody is making decisions about what they sell,” Rev. Cooper told Forbes in an interview at the church’s well-appointed Wall Street offices, with views over the Hudson River.
“Trinity doesn’t need to. We would just like them to tell us they have a system in place at the board level to protect the reputation of the company, its values, and protect the citizens who live in that community from extreme harm.”
Walmart succeeded initially in getting permission fro
m the Securities and Exchange Commission to exclude the proposal from its 2014 filings, on the grounds that it would interfere with day-to-day operations of the retail giant. After a series of back-and-forth filings, the case is now set to be heard by Philadelphia’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals in late February or early March.
The Atlantic comments that,
What Trinity lacks in substantial holdings it partly makes up for in moral standing: Who wants to be seen fighting against a church, especially one that became a national icon for standing in the shadow of the Twin Towers on 9/11? But while Trinity’s historical standing and massive endowment place it well out of the ordinary, its political stand is in line with many mainline Protestant churches. In fact, a coalition of mainline Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church, and Jewish and Muslim leaders are now among the staunchest institutional backers of stricter gun controls. That stands in contrast to evangelical Christians in America, who are far more divided on the gun question.
Forbes notes that Trinity continues to be steadfast in its pursuit of its proposal.
Rev. Cooper is set to retire as Trinity’s rector on February 15. He’s already briefed his successor, Rev. Dr. William Lupfer of Portland, Oregon’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, on the case. Legal counsel Evan Davis — also a church warden — plans to stick with it, even if the appeals process proves arduous.
“Trinity has been here for 318 years,” Cooper said. “We have some things that we can keep doing for a pretty long period of time and this will be one of them.”
Posted by Rosalind Hughes