A New York City private equity firm that quietly became a big player in gun manufacturing in recent years has decided to get out of the business in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Cerberus Capital Management, which counts former Vice President Dan Quayle among its executives, said in a statement Tuesday that it plans to sell its stake in Freedom Group, the parent company of some of the biggest names in firearms, including Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the rifle used to kill 27 people, including 20 first graders, in Friday’s massacre.
In its statement, Cerberus said, “We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition.” But, the company added: “It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.”
“As a Firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers,” the company said. “Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients who are comprised of the pension plans of firemen, teachers, policemen and other municipal workers and unions, endowments, and other institutions and individuals. It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators… There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group.”
In the statement, the company also pointed out that it does not sell weapons or ammunition directly to consumers, “through gun shows or otherwise.”
According to The New York Times, Cerberus acquired Bushmaster in 2006, and later merged it with other manufacturers, including Remington and DPMS Firearms, to create Freedom Group. For the nine months that ended in September 2012, Freedom Group reported net sales of $677.3 million.
Just last year, Cerberus and Freedom Group were the subjects of a big feature in the Times, which called Freedom Group “the most powerful and mysterious force in the American commercial gun industry today.”
“We believe our scale and product breadth are unmatched within the industry,” Freedom Group said in a 2010 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
For the 12 months that ended in March 2010, Freedom Group sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition, according to the Times.
The company snapped up so many gunmakers so quickly, it inspired conspiracy theories. According to one rumor, Freedom Group was secretly run by the liberal billionaire George Soros, who was acquiring gun companies so he could shut down the industry.
But Cerberus is less mysterious than that. With headquarters on Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, offices all over the world, and more than $20 billion under management, the company bills itself as “one of the world’s leading private investment firms.” Among the company’s leadership are co-founder and CEO Stephen Feinberg and Quayle, the chairman of the company’s global investments arm.
On Monday, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the second-largest pension fund in the U.S., told Reuters it was reviewing its investment in Cerberus.
“At this point our investment branch is examining the Cerberus investment to determine how best to move forward given the tragic events of last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut,” a spokesman for CalSTRS said.
Read Cerberus’ full statement:
We were shocked and deeply saddened by the events that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012. We cannot comprehend the losses suffered by the families and friends of those killed by the unthinkable crimes committed that day. No words or actions can lessen the enormity of this event or make a dent in the pain that was inflicted on so many.
In 2006 affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. made a financial investment in Freedom Group. Freedom Group does not sell weapons or ammunition directly to consumers, through gun shows or otherwise. Sales are made only to federally licensed firearms dealers and distributors in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition.
It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level. The debate essentially focuses on the balance between public safety and the scope of the Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment. As a Firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers. Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients who are comprised of the pension plans of firemen, teachers, policemen and other municipal workers and unions, endowments, and other institutions and individuals. It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators.
There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group. We will retain a financial advisor to design and execute a process to sell our interests in Freedom Group, and we will then return that capital to our investors. We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and communities impacted by this tragic and devastating event.
About Cerberus Capital Management, L.P.
Established in 1992, Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. is one of the world’s leading private investment firms. Cerberus has more than $20 billion under management invested in four primary strategies: distressed securities & assets; control and non-control private equity; commercial mid-market lending and real estate-related investments. From its headquarters in New York City and large network of affiliate and advisory offices in the US, Europe and Asia, Cerberus has the on-the-ground presence to invest in multiple sectors, through multiple investment strategies in countries around the world.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com