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California treasurer presses CalSTRS fund to divest more of its gun-related holdings

Key Points
  • CalSTRS is under pressure to divest gun-related investments, particularly retailers of assault weapons and so-called "bump stocks."
  • California State Treasurer John Chiang sent a letter to the California State Teachers' Retirement System asking it to make the change.
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CalSTRS, the nation's second-largest public pension fund, is facing pressure from California State Treasurer John Chiang to divest its gun-related investments, particularly retailers of assault weapons or so-called "bump stocks."

The California State Teachers' Retirement System (or CalSTRS) once held an indirect investment in Remington, the large firearms maker, through private equity holdings but disposed of it in 2015.

On Friday, the state treasurer sent a letter to the chair of CalSTRS that mentioned the deadly shooting in Las Vegas and how the large public pension fund took action in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 "by divesting from companies that make ammunition and firearms that are illegal for sale or possession in the state."

After Sandy Hook, there was a two-year divestment process by CalSTRS that included the fund selling about $3 million in investments in stocks of two large gun manufacturers, Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson, a company since renamed American Outdoor Brands.

However, Chiang said in the letter he wanted the CalSTRS board "to go further" and "refrain from allocating even a penny of our $213 billion in investable assets to the benefit of wholesale or retail sellers of these banned weapons. Neither taxpayer funds nor the pension contributions of any public school educator — such as the three California teachers slain in Las Vegas — should be invested in the purveyors of banned military-style assault weapons."

Chiang, who is a Democratic candidate for governor of California, also said CalSTRS should rid itself of "any investments — direct or indirect — in any company which manufactures or sells bump stocks, slide-fire devices, and other accessories that can accelerate a semi-automatic rifle's rate of fire."

Several of the firearms found in the hotel room of the suspected Las Vegas shooter were reportedly using the bump stock devices.

CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes issued a statement: "CalSTRS has been one of the most vocal institutional investors in the nation about divesting firearms that are illegal for sale or manufacture in California."

Ehnes pointed out that as a result of CalSTRS divesting its firearms investments several years ago, it "no longer has investments in companies that manufacture weapons and ammunition illegal for purchase or use in California. Consistent with CalSTRS investment policy with respect to divestment proposals, CalSTRS will research the Treasurer's request, and make the appropriate decision in accordance with our fiduciary duty."

CalSTRS produced a 13.4 percent net return in fiscal 2017 ended June 30, well above the prior year when it had a 1.4 percent return. In contrast, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (or CalPERS) reported an 11.2 percent increase net return in fiscal 2017, compared with its 0.6 percent return in the prior year.

CalPERS, the nation's largest public pension fund with more than $330 billion in invested assets, is likely to be targeted next for any holdings — direct or indirect — it might have in retailers that sell firearms or ammunition banned in California.

"We started with CalSTRS since they had investments through private equity with Remington," said a spokesman for the state treasurer. "CalPERS never had those. However, now that we are looking at retailers, we will engage with CalPERS."

A CalPERS spokesman said the fund has already divested investments from assault weaponry.

--Update: Adds CalSTRS and CalPERS comments; also correction on CalSTRS Remington investment disposed of in 2015.

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