Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday he was requesting all of his city’s pension funds to divest their investments in gun manufacturers, becoming the latest public official to use the purse as a weapon in the growing battle against gun violence.
Speaking in Washington on the one-month anniversary of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Emanuel’s comments come as a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden prepares to issue its recommendations on gun control. The mayor also spoke as local officials, notably New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and governors in New York and Maryland, have stepped up their efforts to curb the spread of some types of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“We're going to divest of any investment in any gun manufacturer,” Emanuel said at the Washington forum at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive education and advocacy group. Emanuel said he would urge other mayors to follow suit.
It wasn’t immediately known how much of the Chicago pension funds were invested in guns and related companies, but if it follows the pattern of other municipal pension funds, such as New York and California, the amount runs on the order of a tiny fraction of 1%. But such divestment campaigns have had a political impact beyond their monetary value on other touchy issues in the past, such as the effort to oppose apartheid in South Africa and in various anti-tobacco campaigns.
Emanuel’s message also carries some weight since Chicago homicides last year increased 16% to 506. As the former White House chief of staff, Emanuel’s comments might also help with what is expected to be a difficult campaign in Washington over gun control, though his position did not sway his state’s lawmakers. Efforts to ban assault weapons failed in the recent lame-duck session of the Illinois General Assembly.
Biden’s group is expected to make its recommendations this week, and they are likely to include a greater emphasis on background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines of ammunition, and a possible renewal of the assault weapons ban. The group was formed after the Newton, Conn., massacre last month when a lone gunman invaded Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six adults with an assault weapon. The gunman, Adam Lanza, began his assault by killing his mother in the home they shared, and ended it by killing himself.
In California, the State Teachers Retirement System, known as CalSTRS, voted last week to divest itself of firearms holdings as a response to the Newtown massacre.
"This latest incident, which occurred at a school and involved fellow educators and the children we cherish, is a tipping point for CalSTRS," said Harry Keiley, chairman of the fund’s investment committee, at last week’s meeting.
The pension fund has investments in the Freedom Group, the manufacturer of the weapon used by Lanza in his attack. The fund also has money in two other companies including Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. In all, the investments are about $12 million out of $154 billion under investment.
The divestment threat was cited last month by Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity company, as the reason it was selling Freedom Group.
CalPERS, California’s pension fund for state and municipal workers, is also expected to seek divestment of its weapons-related investments.
Outside of California, officials in New York state were looking at how to handle its weapons-related investments, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told reporters last week. New York state has about $15 million invested out of a portfolio of $150 billion, he said in a radio interview with WNYC.
New York City’s five pension funds have about $18 million in firearms investments out of a portfolio of $127.8 billion. In a statement, city Comptroller John C. Liu said his office was “reviewing their holdings in gun manufacturers and are considering all options, including divestment, to ensure that public pension dollars do not support weapons that can destroy a community in the blink of an eye.”
Officials in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have also said they were looking at what they can do.
While some officials were eyeing money, others have stepped up their lobbying and are seeking to toughen local gun laws. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has been the leading municipal voice -- as well as a major funder -- of the campaign to toughen gun control laws, spoke at a conference on Monday at Johns Hopkins University.
“Since the Sandy Hook massacre, you should know that more than 100 mayors from across the country have joined our bipartisan coalition that we created called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That brings our total number of mayors involved to more than 800,” he said.
Bloomberg said he has been in contact with Biden and that the mayors group supports “seven measures -- three that need legislation, and four that require only executive action. And we’re hopeful the vice president and president will support all seven,” Bloomberg said.
The legislative proposals include background checks; making gun-trafficking a federal crime; and limiting assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Among the executive actions are an effective national database, he said.
Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins alumnus, spoke at the conference at the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. Over the weekend, aides to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s released proposals that include having prospective gun owners provide fingerprints to state police as part of the licensing process.
The effort in Maryland goes a step further than New York's, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week unveiled his proposals to ban assault weapons.