New York City

After San Bernardino, NYC officials push city to divest from gun makers

Stringer 'waiting for the mayor to present a detailed resolution’

December 7, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio, above, and Public Advocate Letitia James have called for the city to divest city pension funds of companies manufacturing assault weapons and ammo.  AP photo by John Minchillo

Following last week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14 and wounded 21 people, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James have both called for further divestment of city pension funds from companies manufacturing assault weapons.

“Today I call on all government pension funds in New York City and across the country to divest immediately from funds that include assault weapon manufacturers … Any private equity fund investing in these companies should stop immediately,” de Blasio said in a statement Friday.

De Blasio mentioned the Freedom Group, a group of companies including Remington, H&R and Bushmaster, as one of the investments in question. In the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults using a Bushmaster.

On Monday, appearing live on CNN’s New Day with Alisyn Camerota, he reiterated his call to divest from weapon and ammo manufacturers.

 “It’s time for public pension funds, which ultimately are controlled by the people, to divest in those gun manufacturers and teach them a lesson using the power of the wallet,” de Blasio said.

Two out of five New York City pension funds have already divested from gun manufacturers — NYCERS, the New York City Employees Retirement System; and NYC TRS, New York City Teachers Retirement System.

All told, the five pension funds hold investments worth $162.9 billion, according to Crain’s Pensions & Investments.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer serves as investment adviser, custodian and trustee of the city’s pension funds.

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The comptroller’s office said on Monday it was awaiting a proposal from the mayor on the divestment.

“Gun violence is a real and constant threat to our children, families and communities, and we must use every tool available to address this issue,” John McKay, a spokesperson for the comptroller, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“As the Mayor is aware, the trustees of the funds are responsible for making decisions regarding divestment of pension assets. The next step is for the mayor to present a detailed resolution on his proposal.  We look forward to receiving that proposal, as well as to working with the mayor, and all of our trustees, to review his suggestions,” McKay said.

James drills down on TD Bank

On Monday, Public Advocate James called out TD Bank as financiers of Smith & Wesson, which manufactured the firearms used in the San Bernardino massacre. In a letter to TD Bank, N.A. and TD Securities USA, she demanded the bank terminate their backing of the gun maker, citing $280 million in loans that TD Bank has facilitated for the company.

The shooters in the San Bernardino massacre used a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 .223-caliber assault rifle and a Smith & Wesson handgun, according to officials.

In a statement, James said that that millions of dollars in New York City contracts invested in TD Bank “could come into question, given this revelation.”

“If you want to do business with New York City, you can’t be in bed with companies that manufacture the agents that kill our children and families,” James said.

Judith Schmidt, head of Corporate Media Relations for TD Bank, told the Eagle on Monday, “We are deeply saddened by the events in San Bernardino and our sympathies go out to the individuals and their families affected by this tragedy. We believe this issue belongs in the public policy arena and we support bipartisan efforts to prevent these tragic incidents from occurring in the future.”

She added, “As a matter of corporate policy we do not comment on the nature and specifics of our relationships with our customers.”

In July, James, a trustee of NYCERS, had called on all five of the New York City’s pension boards to divest from gun retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wal-Mart. She said that these stocks posed a risk of lawsuits.

On July 28th, NYCERS agreed to begin the divestment process.

In August, Walmart said it would stop selling assault rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and other weapons used in mass killings, according to Forbes.

Polls show some ambivalence

In a series of Gallup polls taken over the past several years (but before the recent shootings in San Bernardino), 43 percent of those responding said they kept a gun in their home or somewhere else on their property.

Just over half (51 percent) listed some dissatisfaction with the nation’s gun laws. When asked if they favored universal background checks for gun purchases, however, 86 percent said they were in favor of this idea to greater or lesser degrees.

Roughly 80 percent of respondents pointed to the failure of the mental health system to identify dangerous individuals as being to some degree to blame for the recent spate of mass shootings. At the same time, 71 percent thought easy access to guns also shared some of the blame

Between the years 2000 and 2012, support actually decreased for a law making it illegal to sell or own assault rifles. In 2000, 59 percent of respondents said they would support such a law. In 2012, only 44 percent said they would support one.

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