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January 15, 2013

I Am a Teacher, Hear Me Roar: Another Way to Protest Gun Violence

[The following piece is a guest blog by global educator Laurence Peters. The views expressed here are his own, not those of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.]

In 1994, perhaps one of the most remarkable events of the 20th century occurred. The former leader of the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela, who was held captive for 27 years, was elected prime minister of South Africa. This peaceful handover of power was achieved not on the battlefield as many had feared, but because the world had divested from South African companies.

This movement took time to grow and become mainstream, but grow it did, eventually going global. Picketing and demonstrations by student radicals on the campuses of the nations’ universities helped, but it was the attack on South Africa’s once vibrant white-dominated economy that really did the damage. In the 1980s, “between one-half and one-third of the S&P 500 did business in South Africa, placing these companies among the best investments at the time.” The amount of stock held by North American pension funds was minute compared to the size of these companies, but it was a game-changer when major colleges decided they could not morally stomach doing business with South Africa’s apartheid economy. By the end of the 1980s, “90 cities, 22 counties and 26 states [in the United States] had taken some form of economic stance against the South African government” and the divestment movement began to spread to other countries. Finally, the South African government got the message: “Continue to do business the same way and expect to be isolated as a pariah in the world community.”

Now think about the contemporary American experience with gun violence. With our political leaders continuing to fail to make such basic changes to the law as outlawing assault weapons or banning cop-killer bullets, the anti-apartheid movement should give us confidence that we can still affect change.

As Guardian reporter Brett Scott points out, “We’re used to the narrative of how weapons companies support lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association, but we're seldom encouraged to think about who funds the weapons companies themselves.” It’s us funding them, through our pension funds, as police officers, doctors, teachers, etc. Just as with the South African situation, the percentage of stock held individually by these funds in these companies is quite small, but collectively it is a significant stake. We, too, have the capability to send a powerful moral message that is clearly heard in boardrooms across America.

This kind of thinking is beginning to provoke some large-scale changes. Announcements from pension funds around the country suggest that teachers are finally exerting their long-neglected power. Shortly after the Newtown tragedy, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (the largest educator-only pension fund in the world) announced that it would review its investments in the national and international firearms business, including the $600 million it had invested in the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, which owns a significant chunk of the gun industry.

Not coincidentally, on the same day Cerberus announced that it was divesting itself from its gun industry properties (Freedom Group International), including Bushmaster, the firm that manufactured the AR-15 rifle Adam Lanza used to kill 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Cerberus, however, has so far failed to act on its stock ownership of two of the largest gun manufacturers in the world Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson Holding Corp.

The movement is gaining its legs. The California action seems to be moving the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System to review its stake in Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Olin Corp, which manufactures Winchester Arms. Other interested parties taking a close look at their investments include Rhode Island Employees' Retirement System in Providence; Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds in Hartford; and the $37.5 billion Illinois Teachers' Retirement System in Springfield. What we now need is a national divestment movement to include the billions of dollars that state and municipalities across the country invest in firearm and ammunition manufacturers.

Some pension fund managers will of course argue (as they have begun to do) that their role is not to decide the politics of the investments they make, but to simply serve fiduciaries. In other words, they claim their only mission is to ensure that members receive the highest return possible on their investments. But in a nation that suffers approximately 87 gun deaths per day, don’t they bear at least some level of responsibility for supporting the reckless marketing and sales practices of gun manufacturers? And even looking strictly at their financial argument, when bad publicity about gun manufacturers mounts following mass shootings tragedies like Newtown, these stocks are often highly volatile, and can create undisclosed legal liabilities.

If you want another way to circumvent the bought-and-paid-for politicians who have refused to listen to rational arguments, you now have another way to make your voice heard. Call your local pension fund. Tell them you want them to divest 100% from investments in firearms and ammunition manufacturers.

Working together, we can end the epidemic of gun violence in America. The divestment strategy worked in South Africa. It can work here, too.

January 11, 2013

"I know I for one will never touch a firearm again."

[The following piece is a guest blog by gun owner David Myles. The views expressed here are his own, not those of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.]

Before you read this, take a moment to look at the pictures of the children and their teachers who were murdered a few short weeks ago.

I like guns and love the range, but I would trade every day of enjoyment I got out of skeet shooting, every rabbit I've cooked, and target I've blasted to hell (including an old Chevy that pissed me off) for the lives of those children, and all the children that—if if the NRA has its way—will die next, and the ones after, and after that, world everlasting.

Leaving out the sit-down with a psychiatrist talk we need to have about the argument that you should keep your gun because you might have to shoot at the police one day (for anyone thinking that a gun will protect you from tyranny, I'd like to see you go up against a drone with a Bushmaster), the only "weapons" you need these days are good information and your vote; and the only tyranny you need to worry about is the tyranny of an armed society which provides naught but the illusion of safety and the horrors of incidents like Newtown.

Here is my proposed path to stopping gun violence...

Ammunition must be stored at a licensed gun range. It is already illegal to fire your weapon within shouting distance of a home. When at the range you may fire as many rounds as you wish. Hunting licenses will also issue an ammo permit for your hunting weapon. There will be no more stockpiling of ammunition outside of licensed storage facilities. You may load your own shells, equipment, primer, and powder will be issued after a rigorous background check and standard military psych test. You may not posses more than one full magazine of ammunition in your home or on your person, for self-defense. May your God have mercy on the family member you are more likely to kill than an intruder. May your God have mercy on those of of you that will die alone in despair, by your own hand, with your own weapon.

Liability insurance is required if you have more than ten rounds of ammunition, multiple assault-style weapons, or a concealed carry permit. As the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms, nothing is mentioned about modern firearms and ammunition. Criminal and civil penalties will apply to those who fail to provide proof of insurance. Localities are encouraged to pass these laws for municipalities and counties.

All bullets are to be microstamped so crime guns can be traced to their source.

I understand that most gun owners live in the murky, scary world of criminals, rapists, and "commies who run our government" and I pity them for the utter terror in which they walk through the world. But I am tired of innocents dying to maintain their false sense of security. Aren't you? The real problem is that quaking gun owners, hiding in their military-style bunkers oiling and stroking their rifles with soft velvet hands, with their fear of attack and violence, and obsession with the fact that they have no reason with which to face the world, are supporting policies that are killing our community's men, women, and children, and ultimately, even themselves.

"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

- Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1810

Please be part of the solution. I know I for one will never touch a firearm again.