Mass. lawmakers push to divest state funds from gun industry

Massachusetts treasurer supported state lawmakers in filing a bill to divest the state’s public pension fund from companies that earn through firearm and ammunition sales.

The measure would ensure state money managers — the Pension Reserves Investment Management Board — sell, redeem, divest or withdraw funds invested in companies that generate 15 percent or more in revenue from the sale of guns, gun accessories or ammo.

In a statement, state Treasurer Deb Goldberg described the measure as Massachusetts’ lawmakers standing with gun violence victims and survivors rather than the gun industry.

“In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida, I watched as those brave students from Stoneman Douglas High School stood in the balcony watching while the Florida Legislature did nothing,” Goldberg said. “It is clear that traditional approaches have not worked.”

But the bill is a largely symbolic gesture. The pension currently contains $72 billion, but managers would only divest about $5 million — not even 1 percent of 1 percent of the fund — from six companies under the proposed changes. However, divestment could be prevented if it costs the pension 0.5 percent, or about $360 million.

State lawmakers, Rep. Lori Ehrlich and Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, both Democrats, filed a copy of the bill on Monday in the state House and Senate. They echoed Goldberg’s sentiment.

Ehrlich likened the divestment to the government’s strategy on combatting the dangers of smoking. “As a state, we decided to divest from Big Tobacco because of the harm it causes in our communities. It is time we do the same with guns and ammunition,” she said.

In the 1997, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a similar measure forbidding the fund from investing in companies that generate substantial revenue from tobacco sales. Although pension funds missed out over the years on returns from the tobacco industry, money managers still agree with lawmakers’ decision to divest from products that pose negative consequences to populations.

“By enacting this bill, Massachusetts will stand with thousands of individuals and entities exercising their right as consumers to send the message that we must do more to stop gun violence,” said Creem, who represents Newtown, the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.

Although gun companies make up a tiny portion of investments for public pension funds, the Parkland shooting, which left 17 people dead and 15 others injured, renewed efforts to divest from the gun industry. States like New Jersey and California, which had already divested from companies that make guns illegal in the state, are currently considering it.

Once Florida teachers, including those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, learned their retirement fund had some $500,000 invested in the holding company for Smith & Wesson, which manufactured the rifle used in the attack, they called on lawmakers to divest.

However, the Florida State Board of Administration pushed back, saying they had a fiduciary responsibility to act on behalf of their clients and beneficiaries, Bloomberg reported.

But in Massachusetts, Goldberg posed her own fiduciary argument, telling local media that stock prices for gun companies are down. In the past year, price per share for American Outdoor Brands declined some 46 percent, for Sturm, Ruger & Company by 5.6 percent, and Vista Outdoor by 21.6 percent.

Also, Remington Outdoor Company, which owns more than a dozen brands including Remington, one of the largest and most iconic gun companies in the country, is on the brink of declaring bankruptcy.

The Massachusetts bill was filed Monday and sent to committee.

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