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California treasurer urges state pension funds to drop gun sellers

FILE - This Tuesday, April 4, 2017 file photo State Treasurer John Chiang, a candidate for California governor, speaks at a gubernatorial candidates forum, in Sacramento, Calif. Chiang, has helped secure millions of dollars in tax breaks and bonds for housing developers that have donated to his campaigns, including his current run for governor, the Sacramento Bee reports. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
California Treasurer John Chiang asked the board of the state pension fund to divest holdings of retailers of guns and ammunition in a letter he sent Friday.

NEW YORK — John Chiang, California’s treasurer, has urged board members of the state’s pension funds to divest holdings of retailers that sell guns and ammunition around the country that are illegal in California

California, which has stricter gun laws than most states, already has divested stocks of gun manufacturers.

Chaing made his recommendation in a letter Friday, after last week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 dead and more than 500 wounded.

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“Shock and sympathy provide little consolation to the families who must now bury a child, a sibling, a spouse, or a loved one,” Chiang, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to the Teachers’ Retirement Board, which administers the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, known as CalSTRS.

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“Let us leave our platitudes and rituals of grief at the door and focus on what can be done to deny weapons of mass carnage to the next loon,” he said

After the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, when a gunman shot dead 20 schoolchildren, California pension funds began the process of divesting investments in gun manufacturers.

Moving against retailers would be an escalation of the state’s efforts to excise connections to guns from the nation’s largest pension system.

It would not be without precedent. Last year, New York City Employees’ Retirement System voted to divest its shares in Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s, and Big 5 Sporting Goods.

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“We will no longer do business with companies that fund the deaths of our family members and friends,” Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, said at the time.

CalSTRS and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System together own about $12.4 million in shares of Dick’s stock and $1.7 million of Big 5, according to its most recent published holdings and current market prices.

Cabela’s was acquired late last year by Bass Pro Shops, which is privately held, in a transaction completed last month.

Dick’s and Big 5 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a statement released Friday, Bass Pro Shops said the company was “deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas” and said Cabela’s would stop selling bump stock devices used to allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster.

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It was not clear what retailers would be affected by California’s move if it came to pass. Walmart said in 2015 that it would stop selling assault rifles.

California has some of the most restrictive rules on guns compared with many other states, including background checks and a ban on many assault rifles. A measure passed last year bans ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, though it has faced obstacles in court this year.

The state treasurer sits on the boards of both of the state’s major pension funds, but a divestment would require the approval of the broader boards.

“I respectfully call upon this board to 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,” Chiang wrote.

“Neither taxpayer funds nor the personal 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,” he said

If Chiang’s proposal gains momentum, it could influence other state pension funds.

In a statement, Jack Ehnes, the chief executive of CalSTRS, said he would review the proposal, and noted that three of his system’s members died in the Las Vegas attack — “teachers who dedicated their careers to the service of youth and whose lives were cut short by unspeakable violence.”

With the politics of gun control long calcified in Washington, activists have shifted energy and money to states like Virginia, which is moving away from its rural, gun-friendly culture as its voters become increasingly suburban and diverse.

The outburst of violence in Las Vegas is roiling a tight race for governor of Virginia, which was already in the spotlight as the nation’s major referendum this year on President Trump.

Meanwhile, Virginia is still plunged in soul searching over monuments to the Civil War after white supremacists marched in Charlottesville this summer bristling with firearms.

The state’s demographic upheaval has opened the door for Democrats to sweep seven of the last eight elections for president, governor, and US senator.

But gun rights remain a potent rallying cry in many places. Democrats who lead with the issue are at risk of poking a hornet’s nest, as happened two years ago when Republicans retained control over the Legislature in races animated by gun issues.