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St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens, Fla.

Financial officer at Florida university quits rather than leave board of gun maker

Anita Britt has resigned as chief financial officer at St. Thomas University after refusing to give up her seat on the board of American Outdoor Brands.

The chief financial officer of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Fla., has quit her job rather than give up a seat on the board of the company that manufactures the AR-15 assault rifle.

The Miami Herald reports that Anita Britt, who joined the Roman Catholic university in January and the board of American Outdoor Brands a month later, has tendered her resignation.

St. Thomas University’s president, the Rev. Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale, issued a statement issued to the Herald that walked back comments he had previously made that asserted Britt’s role with the gun maker would not conflict with her duties at the university.

“After my statement of this past Friday, it has become clear that many of the sensible and reasonable solutions to this gun epidemic, which have been discussed previously, were becoming less and less clear,” Casale said. “Accordingly, yesterday I advised Ms. Britt that she needed to make a choice of either resigning her role on American Outdoor Brands, or her role as CFO at St. Thomas University, but that she could not continue on both. Ms. Britt informed me this afternoon that she has decided to resign her position at St. Thomas University.”

American Outdoor Brands is the parent company of Smith & Wesson, the maker of guns such as the AR-15, the weapon used in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and staffers dead.

American Outdoor Brands pays its board members more than $100,000 per year, according to the company’s public filings. According to a company news release, Britt joined the weapons maker on Feb. 6, eight days before the shooting at Douglas High.

Casale’s new stance came as outside pressure mounted from faculty members and outside observers. He had initially defended Britt’s prerogative to serve in both capacities, stating that her role as board member was not incompatible with the university’s Catholic teachings.

“Ms. Britt’s position with American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer and... does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas,” Casale had written in a letter.

On Tuesday, he told the Herald that the public reaction to Britt’s holding both positions persuaded him to rethink his stance.

“I came to the conclusion that St. Thomas was being associated with gun violence, and that was not an image I thought was good for the university,” he said.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, a petition called on Britt to immediately resign her position on the board. 

“Ms. Britt, we know this is not what you signed up for!” the petition reads. “As members of these communities, and the greater public, we urge you to end your association with a company that profits from making and selling the AR-15 style rifles used in numerous school shootings and mass shootings across America!”

Marlen Lebish, a spokesperson for the university, declined to reveal Britt’s salary at St. Thomas, citing school policy. But Darrell Arnold, vice chair of the faculty forum, said he recalled the previous CFO earning “quite a lot more money” than $100,000.

Britt had previously served as the CFO of Perry Ellis International, an apparel and accessories business.  She retired in 2017 after an eight-year tenure.

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