Americans Against Gun Violence is disappointed that the Investment Committee Board of Directors of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) voted on Monday not to study a proposal by California State Treasurer John Chiang to divest CalPERS pension funds from businesses throughout the country that are engaged in the sale of military style assault weapons that are illegal for sale in California. CalPERS had previously divested from the manufacturers of such weapons following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. CalPERS is the nation’s largest pension fund, with over $350 billion in assets. The portion of those assets that is invested in businesses involved in the sale of guns is currently unknown.
Treasurer Chiang, who sits on the CalPERS Board, invited Americans Against Gun Violence president Dr. Bill Durston to be one of the speakers in support of his divestment proposal at the Investment Committee Board of Directors meeting on Monday, March 19, along with family members of victims of the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting; CalPERS retirees who had lost family members to gun violence; alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; and representatives of other gun violence prevention organizations. In a gathering with the invited speakers before the CalPERS Board meeting, Treasurer Chiang told the families of victims of gun violence that he understood their anguish, having lost his sister to a murder-kidnapping in 1999.
At the Investment Committee Board meeting, the families of the victims of gun violence gave detailed, heart wrenching testimony about the horrific circumstances of the murders of their loved ones and the ongoing effects of gun violence on their own lives. An active police officer and a retired California Highway Patrol officer, who lost a wife and a daughter, respectively, to gun violence, and who are both CalPERS members, testified that the Board should consider the welfare and safety of its members and not just profits in making investment decisions. A financial expert testified that even if profitability is the main concern of the CalPERS Investment Committee Board, socially responsible investing can be more profitable than investing in companies that are not socially responsible. Alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School expressed their solidarity with the activism of the survivors of the February 14 mass shooting at their alma mater.
Representatives of other gun violence prevention organizations and the League of Women Voters all spoke in support of Treasurer Chiang’s divestment proposal. Dr. Durston urged the CalPERS Investment Committee Board to not only adopt Treasurer Chiang’s proposal, but to go much farther and consider divesting from all businesses involved in the manufacture or sale of handguns and all automatic and semi-automatic rifles. He noted that the adoption of Treasurer Chiang’s divestment proposal would cause a ripple effect across the country, but that more extensive divestment could create ”a tidal wave” that would help reshape the national gun control debate. (Click on this link for the letter that Americans Against Gun Violence sent in support of Treasurer Chiang’s divestment proposal.)
Representatives of the Corona Peace Officers Association and the Police Officers Research Association of California testified against the divestment proposal, as did a few members of the general public, claiming that divestment from the gun industry would be ineffective in reducing gun violence, that prior socially conscious divestment had reduced CalPERS pension fund profits, and that profitability should be the only consideration in investment decisions. In a brief open discussion following public testimony, several Investment Committee Board members echoed those comments. Board members Theresa Taylor and Bill Slaton also expressed the view that “engagement” with the gun industry was preferable to divestment. Treasurer Chiang responded that engagement, without the threat of divestment, was ineffective.
The final vote against further consideration of Treasurer Chiang’s divestment proposal at the Board’s April meeting was nine noes to three ayes. (The list of Board members and how they voted is appended below, along with contact information for the Investment Committee.) The Information Officer for the Treasurer’s Office, John Wark, noted that it is highly unusual for the Board to vote against even granting further consideration to a divestment proposal submitted by a Board member.
In a brief gathering with supporters following the Board vote, Treasurer Chiang noted that he doesn’t usually get emotional in public, but that the testimonies of the families of the victims of gun violence moved him to tears. He vowed to continue his effort to get CalPERS to divest from sellers of guns and gun paraphernalia that are illegal for sale in California. Americans Against Gun Violence supports this ongoing effort.
Treasurer John Chiang, Ramon Rubalcava, Rob Feckner
Priya Mathur, David Miller, Bill Slaton, Theresa Taylor, Margaret Brown, Richard Gillihan , Dana Hollinger , Richard Costigan, Lynn Paquin (for Controller Betty Yee)
Committee Chair Henry Jones
Contact Information for the CalPERS Investment Committee
U.S. Mail: California Public Employees Retirement System, Board of Administration, P.O. Box 942701, Sacramento, CA 94229-2701