CalPERS Receives Plea to Divest From Gun Retailers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Joined by family members of mass-shooting victims, California Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate John Chiang said Monday that taxpayer and state pension fund dollars should not be invested in retailers who sell assault-style weapons.

Chiang also called on other big investors like the Vanguard Group, Allstate and State Farm insurance companies to pull their holdings from retailers, which have in the past included Big 5 Sporting Goods, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger, Walmart and Sportsman Warehouse.

“We have a responsibility now to do what needs to be done, to be responsible public servants, to be responsible investors, to be responsible citizens in a nation with gun violence unknown to any of the world’s developed countries,” Chiang told members of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) board. His request comes a little more than a month after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by a former student armed with a semi-automatic rifle.

Retired California Highway Patrol officer Robert Velasco’s daughter was one of 14 victims who died in the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack, in which a couple targeted a government building and its employees at a Christmas party.

Velasco asked CalPERS board members to divest pension money from companies who sell assault weapons and devices like bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly.

“I realize much needs to be done to prevent mass killings in our country, but we need to start somewhere,” said Velasco, who was joined by several other victims of mass shootings and students from schools where mass shootings took place.

Chiang’s request is not completely out of line for the CalPERS board. In 2013, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. the previous year, the board sold off its investments in two manufacturers of guns and high-capacity ammunition clips.

But on Monday, CalPERS prefaced Chiang’s request on its agenda by stating that divesting is an “ineffective strategy” and investors who walk away from companies they want to protest lose their influence on the companies. Board member Theresa Taylor cautioned pulling out the fund’s investments.

“I think it’s not entirely necessary for us to divest. I don’t have a problem with the conversation, if we want to have a conversation at the later date. If we’re acting responsibly, as we always do, we have a divestment policy that states that we generally don’t divest,” said Taylor.

Over the last two years, the CalPERS board says it has reached out to Big 5, Dick’s, Kroger and Walmart. All have agreed to stop selling assault-style weapons, and some have adopted age restrictions for the sale of firearms.

Sportsman’s Warehouse was also contacted, but the board did not say what came of the request. The company did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

CalPERS’ current total market value is $355 billion. The fund currently has approximately $850 million invested with the five companies named in their report.

The board will revisit the topic at a later date at the request of Chiang.

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