Legislation would force Mass. pension fund to sell gun stocks

Two legislators filed a bill Thursday that would require the Massachusetts pension fund to sell its shares in companies that make firearms and ammunition, following up on a pledge from the state treasurer to use investment power to force change in the gun industry.

State Representative Lori Ehrlich and State Senator Cynthia Creem crafted a bill that would require the pension fund, which invests $71 billion for state workers, to divest its holdings in companies that derive 15 percent or more of their revenue from the sale of ammunition, firearms, or related accessories for civilian purposes. The pension fund is actively invested in six such companies, for a total of about $5 million.

The office of State Treasurer Deb Goldberg oversees the pension fund but can only divest if directed by the Legislature. Massachusetts has a long history of divestment, including from tobacco stocks and companies that do business in Sudan or Iran.

“As gun violence tears at the fabric of our nation and Congress is unable to act even in the face of overwhelming support, it is time for state stewards to ensure our retirement savings and pension funds are not profiting from that violence,” Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat, said in a statement.

Creem, a Newton Democrat and Senate majority leader, said, “By enacting this bill, Massachusetts will stand with thousands of individuals and entities exercising their right as consumers to send the message that we must do more to stop gun violence.”

In February, shortly after the killing of 17 students and educators at a high school in Parkland, Fla., Goldberg told the Globe said she would push for divestment. She decided to take action when the Florida Legislature refused to ban the sale of assault weapons similar to the one used in the school shooting.

“It is clear that traditional approaches have not worked,” Goldberg said in a statement Thursday.

The state pension’s holdings are too small for any divestment to have an effect on gun stocks, but if other states and institutions follow suit, it could force the industry to make guns safer.

According to the treasurer’s office, Connecticut, Florida, and New Jersey are exploring options to sell their holdings in gun stocks in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Others, such as California and New York City, have already withdrawn from many gun holdings after the 2012 shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

Over the past month, big institutional investors, including BlackRock and State Street, have begun to engage gun companies on a more responsible way to sell their products. Retailers that sell guns — including Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods — have also recently raised the minimum age of gun buyers to 21.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.

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