LMU should pledge a gun-free investment portfolio

There are only 31 countries in the world with a higher death-from-gun-violence rate than the United States, and the demographic that is most at risk from gun violence are people under the age of 30, including children, college students and early adults. With the recent tragedies of gun violence in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and in Boulder, Colorado, the urgency of this issue can hardly be overstated. Also, when taken against the historic backdrop of all the gun violence motivated by homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and racism, the threat becomes more than a concern of student safety alone.

The federal government knows this. The Biden administration announced a six step plan to address the gun violence “epidemic” in the United States Wednesday, April 7. The plan intends to address weak gun laws (previously reported on by the Loyolan here) and to establish greater oversight through the means of community based intervention and federal reports.

Does the education system know about this, though? As the debate around gun violence has increased in the last ten years, funding of the gun industry by the education system has appropriately come under the criticism of students and teachers across the nation.

Prompted by the Sandy Hooks Shooting, CalSTRS (California State Teachers’ Retirement Fund) announced in 2013 its plan to divest from manufacturers of guns illegal in the state of California. In 2014, the board of trustees at the private institution Occidental College (a private school) made a decision not to invest in companies that manufacture military-style assault weapons. Yale University, yet another private school, made a similar decision in 2018.

However, most schools have remained silent, failing to disclose their investments. Following a shooting near UCSB's campus in 2014, students put together a petition demanding that the board of regents consider whether they are funding the opposition to common-sense gun laws. An article published by the student newspaper at Columbia University called for the board of trustees to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered from gun violence all over the nation, hoping that divestment from investment management groups like Vanguard and BlackRock would prompt Harvard and Boston University to do the same.

Looking at LMU’s financial reports, it is unclear whether LMU invests in gun manufacturers or not. The issue with investigating LMU’s investments is that students have no idea what is in the university’s $159,785,000 worth of mutual funds. As a private school, LMU does not need to disclose its investments, as many may know from following the story on Divest LMU. LMU releases yearly PRI Transparency Reports in accordance with their RI (Responsible Investing) Policy; however, many sections are unavailable for the public eye.

Cameron Addis, a junior marketing major, said that gun stocks have become more profitable recently. This may be because gun stocks often go up in the wake of mass shootings and calls for gun control, as gun owners fear that it will only become more difficult to purchase firearms. Does LMU even know where its investment dollars go? Addis also said that universities “should know what they are invested in even if it’s in a fund because at the end of the day, they are funding those companies whether it be guns, tobacco, etc.”

However, what is accessible is LMU’s teacher retirement plan, supported by TransAmerica life insurance. According to their website, TransAmerica’s portfolio holdings include a very small percentage of Olin Corporation (a “leading U.S. manufacturer of ammunition” and chemicals) as of Feb. 28, 2021. Although CalSTRS has taken the lead in keeping their portfolio gun-free, secondary investments in ammunition or retailers is a complex conversation that will require the involvement of students, teachers, administrators and investors in the pursuit of greater transparency.

Professor Dee Filecia, LMU lecturer of political science and international relations, was kind enough to address some of the details that remain ambiguous to LMU students. Unable to speak to any particular percentages or funds, Filecia said, “I can confirm that LMU uses an investor that works with ammunition manufacturers. As an institution that promotes social justice, it is hard to imagine why the University would associate itself with an organization that enables violence. It is especially upsetting considering our current political and social conflicts. Since gun violence disproportionately targets marginalized communities, by associating with TransAmerica, LMU is giving tacit approval for egregious violence.”

The extent of LMU’s relationship with TransAmerica is unclear and offers no insight into the school's endowment, which is another fund. LMU may very well have no direct gun investments itself, but if that is the case, then LMU should release an official statement saying so, pledging to protect the lives of students and all those communities made vulnerable to gun violence. If LMU is invested in gun companies in any way, then it should divest and dissociate from other companies that profit from violence. If it is too much to ask a private school for this sort of transparency, then the privileges afforded to private universities need to be reconfigured to better promote a more just future.

This is the opinion of Kyle O’Gorman, a junior theatre and philosophy major from Santa Barbara, California. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email kogorman@lion.lmu.edu.

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