State Treasurer Steve Grossman is wise to review how much of Massachusetts’ $50 billion pension fund is invested in gun companies. Then, once the data are gathered, lawmakers should ensure that public dollars aren’t being invested in firms that promote irresponsible weapons use or seek to undermine the sound regulation of firearms. The massacre in Newtown, Conn., has drawn new attention to disconcerting ad campaigns by gun makers and to the political influence of the gun lobby — and led to much-needed soul-searching by investors wary of supporting either.
The pension fund has $1.4 million invested in two gun makers and an unspecified amount in gun retailer Academy Sports and Outdoors. Grossman said he will review the fund’s holdings for any further gun industry holdings. But the treasurer, who chairs the state’s main pension board, leaves it to Beacon Hill to set policies about whether and when to get rid of investments in certain companies. Massachusetts legislators have done so in the past, divesting from companies doing business with Iran, Sudan, and tobacco firms, and banning investments involving gun and ammo makers in Northern Ireland.
In the short term, moving money out of the gun industry may be a wise business strategy as well. With Washington finally talking about new gun laws, these investments don’t have the profit potential they used to. Private-equity funds are already coming to that conclusion. But more importantly, removing public money invested in companies whose products threaten the public welfare would be consistent with lawmakers’ first job, protecting the public.