Kathleen Miles is the executive editor of Noema Magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @mileskathleen.
Los Angeles moved Wednesday to divest its pensions from any company associated with the production, sale or marketing of assault weapons.
“We are sending a clear signal that Los Angeles supports a ban on assault weapons and that the second-largest city in the nation will not use its resources to fund these dangerous weapons,” LA Councilwoman Jan Perry, who introduced the motion, said on her blog.
The measure instructs the city’s three pension fund systems to report on their investments and begin the process of divesting from companies that produce, sell or market assault weapons, high-volume ammunition magazines, high-caliber ammunition and other firearms “of a type used to inflict mass casualties.”
Councilwoman Perry told The Huffington Post that her introduction of the motion was influenced by “reading when I was younger about strategies to break the chain of commerce for groups that are profiting off of tragedy.”
Los Angeles has divested from tobacco companies, Sudan, Burma and apartheid South Africa in the past. “I wanted to go beyond a ban on assault weapons because everyone who’s a Democrat supports that,” said Perry, who is vying to become LA’s next mayor. “This is more innovative, and it has worked before for the city.”
On Jan. 16, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent letters to the city’s three pension fund systems — the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS), the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions (LAFPP) and the Water and Power Employees’ Retirement Plan (WPERP) — asking each to work to end any investments in companies that produce or manufacture firearms, ammunition or high-capacity magazines.
Other cities are moving in the same direction. New York City’s pension board voted to divest from makers of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — although not from all weapons makers as originally proposed. Philadelphia’s pension board unanimously adopted Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s plan to divest city funds from gunmakers and sellers that do not follow a set of gun-safety principles.
In Chicago, after persuading a $5 billion pension fund to divest from companies that make firearms, Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged two major banks to stop financing companies “that profit from gun violence.” The California Board of State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) has begun the process of divesting from some gun and ammunition-clip manufacturers, and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer wants the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) to do the same.
Still, some public pension trustees and union officials say their priority is to get maximum benefits for their members, and that divesting from weapon companies compromises that goal.
Councilwoman Perry, who has represented much of crime-ridden South LA, said the measure is about saving lives. “Too often, I have had the sorrowful experience of attending funerals of men, women, and children who have been gunned down on the streets of Los Angeles,” she said. “I felt that this simple action would have a huge impact, allowing our dollars to speak for us.”