The POP-POP-POP of an automatic assault rifle is a bone-chilling sound. For most of us, it announces terror with each deadly burst. It is not a sound that belongs in our schools. Or at outdoor family concerts. Or where we work.
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.
The killings are not the result of a single assault weapon, of course. A variety of guns are being used to kill our children, spouses, teachers and friends. But too often the weapons used are rapid-firing assault weapons like the AR-15, guns designed for the sole purpose of killing people.
It is time to replace the “thoughts and prayers” that follow these senseless deaths with conviction and action. If Congress and statehouses are unwilling to deliver real change, then it is up to us to take the fight to where the money is.
We call upon institutional investors – like Blackrock, Vanguard and the public pension funds that represent teachers and public employees, like CalPERS and CalSTRS – to use the power of their purses to prevent more of our schools, worksites and places of worship from becoming killing fields.
The people of California and their elected representatives have already banned military-grade assault weapons deemed a public safety threat. Does it make sense for the state’s largest pension funds to ignore this fact as they plunk taxpayers’ and their members’ dollars into the proliferation of contraband that would earn any California resident caught carrying them jail time?
Some believe divestment for good social reasons always ends up hurting the public beneficiaries of the funds. We disagree.
As a society, we have clearly entered a period in which a paradigm shift is occurring.
Gun company stocks are plummeting with the recent major slump in sales. Smith and Wesson, one of America’s iconic gun manufacturers, slashed manufacturing jobs by 25 percent last year and its last quarter gun sales plummeted a precipitous 39 percent. Meanwhile Remington, another totem in American gun history, has filed for bankruptcy protection.
Divestment can be a powerful change agent. We would argue the gun industry’s current financial misfortunes resulted in part from major institutional investors – like CalPERS and CalSTRS – exercising the power of their principled investment decisions.
Major companies are suddenly severing ties with the NRA and are changing their gun purchasing policies. This past week it was Citigroup. Before the Wall Street bank came similar actions from Delta, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Enterprise, United and Best Western.
Those who oppose divestment are ignoring the gale wind force of history building in the streets and boardrooms across America – along with the facts.
They should look at what has happened to CalPERS’ investments since the fund divested its holdings in companies that make guns in 2013.
A 2015 assessment of the impact of the pension fund’s decision to divest from gun manufacturers in showed an ominous $10 million loss, it is true. But just two years later, an assessment in 2017 showed the loss had been nearly erased, down to $2 million. The current trend line is showing that – from a purely bottom line perspective – we were right to pull out when we did.
Investing in the proliferation of banned military-grade assault weapons is a losing proposition, both morally and financially.
It is time for pension funds and institutional investors cross the country to come to the aid of their fellow countrymen. Money does indeed talk. Let it say, “To hell with thoughts and prayers, we’re divesting to save lives.”
John Chiang is the state Treasurer of California. Giulia Erickson is the Los Angeles co-lead of Moms Demand Action and Margot Bennett is executive director of Women Against Gun Violence. Reach them at John.Chiang@treasurer.ca.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com. They wrote this for The Sacramento Bee