Wells Fargo & Co. holds the top market share for lending to U.S. firearms manufacturers over the past five years, according to a Bloomberg News analysis released Wednesday.
The report found that Wells Fargo has lent at least $431.1 million to firearms manufacturers since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 that killed 26 people.
Several other banks with Triad and North Carolina ties are on the list, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, tied for fourth at $273.6 million; BB&T Corp., tied for ninth at $157.5 million; and PNC Financial Services Group, tied for 11th at $148.6 million.
Bloomberg said the financing includes bonds and loans provided to American Outdoors Brands, Remington Outdoors, Sturm Ruger & Co. and Vista Outdoor. Some banks, such as BB&T, are active as book runners for securities and other offerings by firearms manufacturers, sometimes jointly.
Bloomberg reported that some of Wells Fargo’s relationship with the National Rifle Association is tied to loans provided by banks it had bought, including First Union Corp. via Wachovia Corp.
That includes Wells Fargo creating a $28 million line of credit for the NRA and operating its primary accounts, financial documents show.
Wells Fargo said in a statement that it doesn’t comment specifically on customer relationships.
“Any solutions on how to address this epidemic will be complicated,” the bank said. “This is why our company believes the best way to make progress on these issues is through the political and legislative process.
“We plan to engage our customers that legally manufacture firearms and other stakeholders on what we can do together to promote better gun safety for our communities,” it said.
The NRA paid $9.9 million in banking fees in 2015 and 2016, according to annual reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The NRA didn’t respond to Bloomberg requests for comment.
In 2014, the NRA and Wells Fargo amended their long-standing financial arrangement, according to public records, when the NRA pledged its headquarters building in Fairfax, Va. as collateral on a $22.6 million loan.
The building was assessed at $40.4 million last year, according to Fairfax County records, down from $57.9 million 10 years earlier.
Based on year-end 2016 figures, Wells Fargo would make an estimated $1.2 million annually from the loan. The NRA owed Wells Fargo $19.8 million as of Dec. 31, 2016.
BB&T said in a statement in response to the Bloomberg analysis that “we’re deeply concerned with the increasing amount of gun violence in our schools and communities.”
“We’re fully supportive of the political process to make sure everyone’s voice is heard,” the Winston-Salem-based bank said. “BB&T is also being thoughtful about the issue and part of our consideration is to listen to our clients, who represent a wide range of opinions.
“For privacy reasons, we can’t speak publicly about our lending relationships,” BB&T said. “We’ve always based our lending activities and decisions upon careful, deliberate and logical consideration, and we’ll continue to do so.”
Some major asset managers, most prominently BlackRock, have told firearms manufacturers that they want to “understand their responses” to last month’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.
BlackRock owns 17 percent of Ruger and 11 percent of American Outdoor Brands through its various mutual fund indexes.
“We focus on engaging with the companies and understanding how they are responding to society’s expectations of them,” BlackRock spokesman Ed Sweeney said.
American Outdoor responded by saying that while it supports gun-safety measures such as tighter background checks, it is cautious about adding “smart gun” technology to its weapons.
Bank of America issued a similar statement, saying it plans “to engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility.”
In June 2016, Letitia James, the public advocate for the city of New York, sent a letter to the chief executives of BB&T and five other financial institutions. The letter asked them to end their financial backing of Sig Sauer Inc. of Newington, N.H.
At that time, the six banks participated in providing $178 million in loans and a credit line to privately held Sig Sauer in December 2015 for expansion initiatives, according to James’ office and several media reports.
U.S. law-enforcement officials have said a Sig Sauer MCX rifle was used in the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people and wounded 53. Orlando is a key hub in Florida for BB&T.
“At a time when many Americans express outrage at the behavior of big banks in underwriting bad practices, I urge you to reconsider your role as a financier of companies that manufacture weapons that are used by mass murderers,” James wrote.
Kelly King, BB&T’s chairman and chief executive, sent James a three-paragraph letter in which he said that “while your points are well taken, BB&T has a long-standing policy to protect the privacy of our clients, as required by law, and we cannot address the details of our lending relationships.”
However, BB&T Capital Markets’ Corporate Banking group said on June 15, 2015, that it had closed $280 million in credit facilities for Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., the former corporate name for American Outdoor Brands. BB&T committed $60 million as the joint lead arranger and joint book runner.