At first glance, Cerberus Capital Management LP's decision to dump Freedom Group, maker of the semiautomatic rifle used in the Newton, Conn., massacre, was purely economic.
"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," the company wrote in a statement.
The company added. "It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate."
As if to underscore the cold logic of Cerberus in making its decision, reporting showed Cerberus surrendered only after pension funds pressured the private-equity fund and founder Stephen Feinberg
To some outsiders, Cerberus's move wasn't enough. The message seemed to be: "This is about the money." It was too unfeeling. It might have been the right move, but it was being made for the wrong reason.
Even if that was the case, Cerberus's dumping of the maker of the Bushmaster wasn't ruthless. It is free-market capitalism at its finest: a company responding to market forces, its investors, customers and owners.
Cerberus officials didn't respond to requests for comment.
If anything, the move proves that shareholder democracy could be effective if enough stakeholders get on board. Sadly, most don't, either because big fund companies have incentives to go along with management or because they don't think companies will respond, or both.
Sometimes activism requires just picking up the telephone.
That said, it would be surprising if Mr. Feinberg, who has been described as an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, truly had Freedom pried from his hands by the investment manager of the California State Teachers Retirement System.
Mr. Feinberg, 53 years old, is still an influential member of the Wall Street community. His roots go back to Drexel Burnham Lambert, arguably the industry's equivalent of the Founding Fathers.
Also consider that unlike the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., or at Virginia Tech, the tragedy in Newtown was almost in Wall Street's backyard.
Newton is an "exurb" of the traditional banking and finance center of New York City and a suburb of modern finance. Many hedge funds operate just south in Danbury, Stamford and Greenwich, where Mr. Feinberg has a home.
For all of its pastoral affectations, Newtown is a community of the wealthy. The median household income of $90,193 is nearly twice the national median. Just 2.2% of families are below the poverty line.
Nancy Lanza, mother of shooter Adam Lanza, reportedly was a former stockbroker. Her ex-husband is an executive with GE Energy Financial Services.
More than half of working residents in the Newtown area described their employment as management, professional or financial, according to a report last year by the town's economic-development commission.
Mr. Feinberg's father, Martin, also lives in Newtown. He described the shooting as "devastating."
None of this means Cerberus or Mr. Feinberg is hiding something. But it would be foolish to pretend that the proximity of the Newtown shooting didn't give the tragedy immediacy to the financial industry.
In addition, Mr. Feinberg has long cultivated a private persona. Cerberus's troubled investments in Chrysler and GMAC prompted him to write that he despised "all the public attention" those investments brought. He also implied that even if Chrysler stumbled, Cerberus and its investors could make money, writing "we do not need to be heroes."
So, in weighing the sale of Freedom Group, Mr. Feinberg and his Cerberus colleagues may well have used a cold cost-benefit analysis. That certainly would be the best message to send to your investors, who want to feel their stake carries significant weight.
But it is also fair to wonder if Freedom would be on the block today if the shooting had happened in Montana or Texas. It is, after all, one thing to make a ruthless decision, quite another to make it when you have to look your neighbor in the eye.Write to
David Weidner at firstname.lastname@example.org