John Streur, the chief executive of the investment firm Calvert Research & Management, remembers exactly where he was when he learned of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Mr. Streur recalled standing in New York’s Pennsylvania Station on the afternoon of Feb. 14, squinting at his iPhone in disbelief as he read that 17 teenagers and teachers had been shot dead, he said recently. As chief of one of the world’s biggest responsible investing mutual funds, Mr. Streur was an activist on issues including climate change and equality, yet he said he felt powerless when it came to gun violence. Now, he wanted to see if he could use Calvert’s financial clout to change the way guns — most notably the AR-15 military-style assault rifle used in the massacre and weapons like it — were sold in the United States.
Two weeks after the shooting, on Feb. 28, he told his assistant: “Get Kroger on the phone.” But the management at Kroger, one of the nation’s largest grocery-store chains, was gearing up for an earnings release and wasn’t taking investor calls. “I told her to call them back and tell them I don’t want to talk about earnings. I want to talk about gun sales,” Mr. Streur recalled. (Kroger sold guns in 43 of its 133 Fred Meyer stores in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, with the latter state selling the military-style assault rifle.)
Calvert, which was acquired by Eaton Vance in 2016, currently has roughly $14 billion in assets and owns $2.6 million worth of Kroger shares. Mr. Streur wanted management to know “if they weren’t going to stop selling guns to kids,” he would file a resolution to take it to a shareholder vote. The morning after his call, Kroger said it would stop selling guns to those under the age of 21. Two weeks later, the chain said its stores would stop selling firearms altogether, citing a slump in gun sales.
“When it comes to mass shootings, I think American society feels helpless about what can possibly be done to try and change the equation,” Mr. Streur said in a recent phone interview from Washington, where he lives. “To have the capital markets be part of a solution is meaningful. It is responsible investing at its best,” he said. (Kristal Howard, a Kroger spokeswoman, said that while the company welcomed dialogue from stakeholders, “it wouldn’t be accurate to credit this policy shift” solely to Mr. Streur’s phone call.)
Mr. Streur, 58, has long been a leader in what’s called environmental, social and governance investing, starting in a boutique money management firm in 1991. But lately, his profile on Wall Street and beyond has been raised by the gun debate. After recent mass shootings, questions have been asked about what role investors might play in forcing companies to ask themselves whether they are complicit in gun violence, and whether businesses, banks or firearm retailers should set rules limiting gun sales or lending to gun manufacturers.