DENVER – As the national debate over gun rights rages, gun control advocates have quietly opened a new front in the battle. It’s a battlefield far removed from the halls of Congress and state legislative chambers, and the focus of the campaign isn’t fence-sitting lawmakers, it’s dollars and cents.
For years, anti-gun interest groups have been unable to advance their legislative agenda thanks to opposition in Congress and state capitols. Undaunted, some supporters of stricter gun regulations have decided to target the gun industry’s bottom line, seeking to withdraw public investments in firearm companies, and to pressure private investors to do the same.
“This has to be about doing what is morally right and not what is financially beneficial to their bottom lines.” said Chicago’s Democrat Mayor and former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in statement urging several mutual fund companies to “blacklist” firearm businesses that oppose gun control.
And Emanuel isn’t alone. CalPERS, the largest pension fund in the U.S., managing assets for more than 1.6 million California public employees and retirees, voted to divest itself of some $5 million in Smith & Wesson and Ruger holdings, according to a recent Reuters report.
“As trustees, we take divestment very seriously,” said CalPERS Board of Administration President Rob Feckner in a press release. “As Californians, we also take gun violence very seriously. Eliminating these investments allows us to keep our duty to our members and, in some small part, do what we can to help stop the proliferation of weapons that can magnify and multiply horrific acts of mass violence.”
In another heavily Democratic state, New York, City Comptroller John Liu announced last month that a public school teachers’ pension fund would also unload its gun industry holdings.
“There is no need to support these companies, whose products can destroy lives and shatter communities in the blink of an eye,” Liu told the Associated Press. “Our investment portfolio gains nothing by doing business with these firms, and this is a sound decision that sends an important message about our commitment to addressing the plague of gun violence in every possible way.”
While supporters of divestment from firearm companies have found champions in liberal bastions New York, Chicago and California, they haven’t found success in swing states like Colorado – at least not yet.
“The PERA Board of Trustees has not taken up the issue of divestment of firms that manufacture or sell guns,” Katie Kaufmanis, a spokeswoman for Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association told The Observer. She added that PERA has not been contacted by any elected officials on the issue of gun industry divestment.
Kaufmanis also referred to an overarching statement on divestment adopted by the PERA board.
“PERA serves the singular purpose of operating the retirement system serving more than 400,000 current and former public servants,” the 2007 statement reads in part, adding that the pension “does not have the authority to determine social policy, foreign policy, economic policy or any other policy beyond the operation of the retirement system.”
Even so, Colorado firearms businesses have faced an attack on their livelihood in the form of bills that seek to subject gun manufacturers to legal liability, and ban the sale of high-capacity magazines.
Magpul, a Colorado based magazine producer, has indicated that it may leave the state if the magazine ban is approved, taking as many as 1,000 jobs with it. The firm has been courted by other states eager to welcome the company.
State lawmakers who support the new gun restrictions have so far been unmoved by pleas from affected companies that would be hurt by the new rules.
“They do employ a lot of people,” said Senator Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), referring to Lawrence Tool and Molding and Alfred Manufacturing, two companies that have also said they would leave Colorado if the gun control proposals are adopted. “However, I’m here as the legislator. I’m here to vote on a very important bill about the safety of our people. And so yes, it gives me caution, but I’ll have to vote with that in mind.”