Kansas City asks pension fund managers not to invest in gun securities

07/25/2013 5:18 PM

07/25/2013 11:37 PM

Following the lead of Mayor Sly James, the Kansas City Council took a strong but largely symbolic stance Thursday against gun violence.

The council passed a measure that asks managers of city pension funds to consider not investing in the securities of gun manufacturers.

Casting the only no vote was Councilman John Sharp, who said it would have no immediate effect because none of the city’s four pension funds currently holds stock in companies that make guns.

Moreover, he saw it as a slap at law-abiding gun owners like himself.

But James said his proposal was an important statement that needed to be made in a city that’s plagued by gunplay.

“I do not have a public position in opposition to people lawfully owning guns,” he said.

But measures like this one send a message to gun makers that they need to discuss how they might help cities eliminate gun violence.

The council voted 12-1 in favor of the measure.

Kansas City now follows examples set by cities such as Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel persuaded a $5 billion pension fund to divest from gun manufacturers.

Several other state and large-city pension funds have frozen their gun investments, or have sold them.

James’ proposal doesn’t go that far.

First, the resolution has no force of law. Instead, it asks the boards of the city employees, firefighters, police and police civilian pension systems to consider adopting policies against investing in companies that make guns.

Nor does it require the funds to divest current holdings, not that it would make much difference.

Neither of the pension funds benefiting firefighters and other city employees have direct investments in firearms manufacturers, according to Rick Boersma, the retirement systems’ executive officer.

Same goes for the two police pension funds, said Jim Pyle, executive officer of those programs.

While he agreed with the mayor’s focus on the need to reduce gun violence, Sharp said there were better ways to do that, such as throwing more city support behind anti-violence programs already underway.

James said he had no objection to the legal use of guns. While in the Marine Corps he had learned to use all manner of weapons, from machine guns to flame throwers.

But since he became mayor two years ago, he’s been waging a campaign against illegal gun use because of the many shootings that occur largely in the urban core.

But not always there. In the summer of 2011, James himself hit the dirt with the help of his two bodyguards when shots rang out as he toured the Country Club Plaza.

The nationwide effort to pull investment funds out of gun stocks resembles the effort some years ago to put pressure on the former government of South Africa to end apartheid. At the time, some fund managers objected to inserting politics into investment decisions.

Similar objections have arisen from the trustees of public pension funds.

When Emanuel pushed his proposal, some trustees said their duty was to protect the financial interests of retirees, not to effect policy changes.

James said after Thursday’s meeting that, although gun issues often draw heated debate, he has heard little criticism about this proposal.

“But maybe when people heard it was about pensions, they fell asleep,” he said.

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