The pop-pop-pop of an automatic assault rifle is a bone-chilling sound that does not belong in our schools or workplaces. Yet it happens every few days in America.
In just the first three months of 2018, 76 have been killed and 205 wounded in mass shootings. Too often the weapons used are the AR-15 and other guns designed solely to kill people.
If Congress and state legislatures are unwilling to deliver real change then we must take the fight to where the money is – institutional investors such as Vanguard, BlackRock and JP Morgan Chase and, importantly, public pension funds.
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We call upon CalPERS and CalSTRS, the nation’s two largest pension funds, to divest from wholesale and retail sellers of assault weapons. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System’s investment committee is to debate this issue on Wednesday.
The people of California, through their elected representatives, have already banned military-style assault weapons. Does it make sense for one of the state’s largest pension funds to ignore this fact and put their members’ dollars into companies responsible for the proliferation of these weapons?
Some believe that divestment for good social reasons ends up hurting pension fund beneficiaries. We disagree.
Skeptics should look at what has happened to CalPERS’ investments since it divested its holdings in gun manufacturers in 2013. While a 2015 assessment showed a $10 million loss, by 2017 the loss had been nearly erased, down to $2 million. And the current trend line is showing that we were right to pull out when we did.
Gun company stocks are plummeting with the recent major slump in sales. Smith & Wesson, one of America’s iconic gun manufacturers, slashed jobs by 25 percent last year. Remington has filed for bankruptcy protection.
After the school massacre in Parkland, Fla., and the student-led activism, major companies are severing ties with the National Rifle Association and are changing their gun purchasing policies. They include Citigroup, Bank of America, Delta, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Enterprise, United and Best Western.
Divestment can be a powerful change agent. We would argue that the gun industry’s current financial misfortunes resulted in part from major institutional investors – such as CalPERS – exercising the power of their purse strings.
Those who oppose divestment are ignoring the change in the streets and boardrooms across America. Investing in the proliferation of banned assault weapons is a losing proposition, morally and financially.
John Chiang is California state treasurer and can be contacted at John.Chiang@treasurer.ca.gov.
Giulia Erickson is co-leader of Moms Demand Action Los Angeles and can be contacted at email@example.com. Margot Bennett is executive director of Women Against Gun Violence and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.