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Chicago’s mayor tries to enlist banks in anti-gun campaign

Fresh from persuading a $5 billion pension fund in Chicago to divest from companies that make firearms, the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, on Thursday urged the chief executives of two major banks to stop financing companies ‘‘that profit from gun violence.’’

Emanuel sent letters to TD Bank, which provides a $60 million credit line to Smith & Wesson, and to Bank of America, which provides a $25 million line to Sturm, Ruger & Co., asking the CEOs to push the companies to ‘‘find common ground with the vast majority of Americans who support a military weapons and ammunition ban.’’

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Emanuel’s effort to enlist banks in the gun control campaign is just one example of a new willingness by a public official, galvanized by last month’s carnage in Newtown, Conn., to wield the power of the purse.

New York state’s big public pension fund and California’s fund for teachers have already frozen or divested their holdings in guns, and California’s fund for other public workers, known as Calpers, is expected to take up the issue in February. Massachusetts Treasurer Steve Grossman has also directed the state pension fund to review any investments in gun, ammunition, and other companies. New York City’s public advocate has put pressure on banks and investment firms by ranking their gun holdings by size and calling those with the 12 biggest stakes the Dirty Dozen.

‘‘Elected leaders understand that this is a tool of government with huge ramifications,’’ said the public advocate, Bill de Blasio, who is a trustee of the city’s $45 billion pension fund. ‘‘What happened in Newtown sort of crystallized this.’’

In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael A. Nutter has prepared a wide-ranging set of principles that companies would have to adopt before receiving city pension money. He calls them the Sandy Hook Principles, after the Newtown elementary school, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults with an assault-style weapon on Dec. 14. They are modeled on the approach the city took more than a decade ago to put pressure on companies doing business in South Africa under apartheid.

How successful Emanuel, himself a one-time investment banker, will be with bank executives is also uncertain. He cannot make them sever business relationships. He told the Bank of America chief, Brian T. Moynihan, and the TD Bank chief, Bharat B. Masrani, that the trustees of Chicago’s main pension fund had just voted to unload more than $1 million worth of gun stocks, and said it was time for the bankers to get on board. ‘‘We can no longer wait,’’ he wrote.

RAHM EMANUEL

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A spokesman for Bank of America declined to comment on Emanuel’s letter. A spokeswoman for TD Bank said she had not yet seen the letter and could not comment on it.

De Blasio said he had already seen results from his Dirty Dozen list, a ranking of the New York-based financial services companies with the biggest holdings of firearms manufacturers. Compiled from filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the list includes hedge funds, banks, investment firms and an insurance company.

The day after he unveiled the list at a news conference, he said, he received a phone call from Laurence D. Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, which de Blasio ranked second with gun holdings of about $346 million.

“Obviously, he was concerned about how the public saw the firm,’’ said de Blasio, who is running to succeed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate of gun control. He said Fink told him that BlackRock would start offering its clients funds with no exposure to firearms.

BlackRock does not actively pick weapons makers as an investment strategy, a spokesman said. Rather, it offers index funds to its clients and buys the stakes as it duplicates the makeup of stock indexes that include gun makers. The spokesman confirmed that BlackRock could offer its institutional clients the same index funds as before, with the gun assets stripped out. He did not say whether the offering had been made in response to de Blasio’s list.

The biggest gun investor on the list, with at least $706 million in gun holdings, was Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm that created a small conglomerate called the Freedom Group out of a number of smaller makers of guns, ammunition, and shooting accessories.

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