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Gun manufacturers are powerful. This nun is, too.

Sister Judy Byron (in blue, at left) having a dialogue with board members of Merck Pharmeceuticals in New York at the Interfaith Center.
courtesy of Judy Byron
/
Sister Judy Byron (in blue, at left) having a dialogue with board members of Merck Pharmeceuticals in New York at the Interfaith Center.

This story originally aired on March 23, 2019.

When Judy Byron became a nun, she thought she'd spend her life wearing a habit and teaching school. And she did do that, for a while. But then an opportunity came along to make an impact in a different way.

Sister Judy became a shareholder. A shareholder in pursuit of justice.

See, nuns do have a little bit of money. And they have to manage it. That responsibility sometimes falls to organizations like The Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (NWCRI), a collaborative of faith-based institutions who use their power as investors to create social change.

Sister Judy became the director of NWCRI, and began to use her power to push corporations to take action on issues such as human trafficking, HIV medications, and gun safety.

She does it with just $2,000. Specifically, $2,000 worth of stock. That's what it takes to put forward shareholder resolutions and generally force a corporation to pay attention to you. 

In the past, Sister Judy has used the tool to get leverage with companies such as Hershey, Hyatt Hotels and Walmart. In recent years, she's used the same strategy to hold gun manufacturers accountable for shooting violence.

First, she bought stock in Sturm Ruger, American Outdoor Brands, and Dick's Sporting Goods. Then, she proposed a shareholder resolutions asking that they report on gun safety measures they've taken. They've also released an Investor Statement on Gun Violence, detailing suggested actions gun manufacturers, retailers, and financial institutions can take to increase gun safety. 

Sister Judy says she admires recent actions taken by young people against gun violence, especially after the Parkland shootings. But, she says, adults have a serious responsibility. "We can't let the kids do the heavy lifting on this issue. We as adults and legislators etcetera really need to step up."

Though it wasn't exactly what she imagined she'd be doing when the took the habit, Sister Judy is grateful that her life took this turn. "It's good work. I look forward when I get up in the morning to what I'm going to do."

Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.
Gabriel Spitzer is the Host and Senior Producer of Sound Effect, KNKX's "weekly tour of ideas inspired by the place we live." Gabriel was previously KNKX's Science and Health Reporter. He joined KNKX after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.