Shedding Gun Stocks Would Be Complex

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A Ruger LCP pistol. Like many public pension funds, New York City's retirement accounts own stock in Sturm, Ruger.

Photo by: Ken Lunde

A Ruger LCP pistol. Like many public pension funds, New York City's retirement accounts own stock in Sturm, Ruger.

New York City may have taken a stance against sugary drinks, but it still has investments in Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Smoking is illegal in bars and parks but Philip Morris is still in New York’s pension portfolio. Calories aside, New York City’s retirement accounts hold $123 million in McDonald’s shares. Wal Mart has never been able to open a store in town, but the city owns part of Wal Mart. And amid all the concerns about climate change in our seaside metropolis, Exxon is the city’s top stock holding.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that the city’s pension funds, which are valued at $127.8 billion, own nearly $18 million in firearms-related stock.

Nor should it be shocking that, after the horror in Newtown, there are growing calls for the city to shed those holdings.

Calls for a ‘sell’ off

New York City is hardly along in holding gun stocks. So do public pension funds for New York State, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina—even Illinois, which is probably the only place with tougher gun laws than the Empire State.

But those investments might change after the Sandy Hook shootings. California’s statewide teachers’ pension fund earlier this week said it was reconsidering its firearms holdings, prompting a spokesman for New York City Comptroller John Liu, who oversees the city’s funds, to say, “We are currently conducting a review of our holdings and aggressively exploring all options, including divestment.”

On Wednesday, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called for the city to sell its gun-related stock. That includes its shares in Olin Corporation ($14 million), a chemical conglomerate that includes the Winchester ammunition company; Sturm, Ruger ($2.3 million), the nation’s leading pistol maker; Smith & Wesson ($1.6 million), a top manufacturer of revolvers; and Taurus ($17,866), which produces pistols.

“It’s a bad investment to put money behind companies that put military-grade weapons on our streets and refuse to take responsibility for the outcome,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Beyond our fiduciary duty, we should not be giving capital to an industry that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans each year.”

The details of divestment

New York’s pension funds, which are among the largest in the country, have been called on to divest before. In 1984 the funds divested from businesses operating in South Africa. In 2009, under then-comptroller Bill Thompson, the funds partially divested from Iran.

But divestment is not a simple choice.

By owning stock the city has some influence over corporate policy. In the past year the city submitted 61 shareholder resolutions to 58 firms. Some succeeded: According to a