May 9, 2018 / 7:47 PM / 18 days ago

CalSTRS opts to engage with assault weapon retailers, not divest

May 9 (Reuters) - The California State Teachers’ Retirement System decided on Wednesday not to divest from Walmart and other retailers that sell military-style assault weapons, resisting pressure from state officials, teachers and family members of shooting victims and opting instead for proactive engagement.

California State Treasurer John Chiang had urged the nation’s second largest public pension fund to consider divestment from retailers, stating that CalSTRS had the opportunity to “deny weapons of mass carnage to another killer stalking our innocent loved ones.”

The pension fund has already divested from firearms manufacturers. But the board said that with retailers, it would prefer to take a high-profile engagement strategy. The plan calls for the fund to hire two new positions devoted to actively engaging retailers. It allows the board to reconsider divestment if it “fails to achieve an acceptable outcome,” but did not specify what would be considered unsuccessful engagement.

CalSTRS plans to prioritize “a public communication plan to highlight areas of firearm concern and applaud responsive companies.”

CalSTRS’ decision follows a similar one by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System board, which in March opted not to divest in assault rifle retailers and wholesalers, saying the move would do little to reduce gun violence.

Both proposals were pushed by Chiang, who is running for governor of California.

CalSTRS’ exposure to retailers and wholesalers of assault-style rifles exceeds $420 million, the majority of it passively held in an investment in Walmart Inc. The pension fund’s total portfolio reached $222.5 billion as of March 31.

The CalSTRS board on Wednesday listened to statements from about a dozen members of the public, including teachers, parents, and family members of victims of mass shootings, who called on the board “to be an agent of change” by supporting divestment.

In 2013, CalSTRS divested from publicly traded companies that manufactured firearms after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Following the mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, weapon manufacturers, too, have been under increasing scrutiny to acknowledge a growing public discourse over weapon sales to the public.

Sturm Ruger & Co executives said on Wednesday a majority of investors backed a shareholder resolution calling for the company to produce a safety report, a rare rebuke to management and the first time in memory such as resolution passed at a publicly traded gunmaker.

Reporting by Robin Respaut in San Francisco; Editing by Daniel Bases and David Gregorio

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