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Op-Ed | We must divest from ammo and gun manufacturers to protect our children

Three pistols
Photo via Getty Images
I write on a topic of mutual concern, and in the spirit of collaboration, regarding the most urgent issue of our time: gun violence prevention. 
 
Our collective American family is still reeling from the aftermath of last week’s horrific mass murder of 19 innocent children and their two teachers. This shooting comes on the heels of another in Buffalo, where a White Supremacist drove 200 miles to murder Black people he believed were “replacing” the White population, taking the lives of 10 innocent people with an AR-15.
 
These tragedies bring to the forefront an intolerable statistic for anyone to stomach in 2022: guns are the number one cause of death for children in the United States.
 
The work of activists and committed elected officials, like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, to enact policy change has, despite their herculean efforts, failed in the face of one of the best-funded political organizations in America – the NRA. It is outrageous that we have to fight to pass common-sense legislation like Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey’s “Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act,” which would both ban online ammunition sales and require unusual bulk ammunition sales to be reported to law enforcement agencies. While we organize and push for gun safety reform in Washington, we need an all-hands-on-deck strategy; an everything-in-the-toolbox kind of approach is required at this moment for gun violence prevention.
 
We recently learned that the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF), the public pension fund that manages the pension money of the government employees of this state, as well as the New York State Teachers Retirement System (NYSTRS), the public pension fund that manages the pension money of the teachers of this state, are significant investors in Olin, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of bullets. Additionally, they maintain significant positions in some of the largest gun manufacturers in the country, like Storm Ruger and Co. and American Outdoor Brands.
 
These are public companies that manufacture the deadly weapons and the ammunition used to kill our children. While these investments may pass a fiduciary screen, they do not pass a moral one. This is unacceptable.
 
The money that gives these public sector employees and teachers a chance at a long and happy retirement should not go to the industries that threaten to cut their lives, and the lives of their children, short. 
 
The NYSCRF and theNYSTRS have the power to hold the gun industry accountable by removing the following stocks from their portfolios:
  • Olin Corporation (ammo) – $OLN
  • Vista Outdoor (ammo) – $VSTO
  • National Presto Industries (ammo) – $NPK
  • Sturm Ruger and Co. (gun manufacturer) – $RGR
  • American Outdoor Brands (gun manufacturer) – $AOUT 
 
NYSCRF is the third-largest public retirement fund in the nation, managing $207.4 billion in net assets and providing retirement benefits to nearly one million New York State government employees. 
NYSTRS is one of the 10-largest public retirement funds in the nation, managing $148.1 billion in net assets and providing retirement benefits to nearly 434,000 New York State public school teachers and administrators. 
 
The size and success of these funds mean that divestment of these stocks would send a clear and meaningful message, and be the beginning of an effort to bring scrutiny to these companies, as we did in the recent past with the accountability that was visited upon fossil fuel and tobacco companies.
 
Right now, the NYSCRF and the NYSTRS have the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of those affected by gun violence. Divestment sends a powerful message to gun manufacturers, and the pensioners, that these funds stand vehemently opposed to the companies directly benefiting from the flow of guns and bullets into our communities.
 
When do we say enough is enough? When do we look at hundreds of dead children and grieving parents and decide that we need to change our strategy? That time is now.
 
The NYSCRF and the  NYSTRS leadership must step up and call on its investment managers to divest from Olin, Vista Outdoors, National Presto Industries, Sturm, and American Outdoor Brands. These pension funds must adopt a strict new investment criterion to no longer hold gun and ammunition manufacturers in their funds.

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