THE Episcopal Church in the United States is to start buying shares in gun manufacturers, in order to be able to exert pressure to reduce gun violence.
It is the first time that the Church has bought shares with the sole purpose of engaging in shareholder action. The Church’s General Convention passed a resolution in the summer calling on the Executive Council’s committee on corporate social responsibility to look into investing in gun manufacturers in order to have influence to “minimize lethal and criminal uses of their products”.
The Bishop of Western Massachusetts, Dr Douglas Fisher, is taking over chairmanship of the committee at the beginning of January. He said: “At our January meeting we will begin the preparation for guidelines for investment. Executive Council needs to sign off on that. We should be ready for investment by the late spring. We need to hold stock for 12 months before we can file resolutions, but we can engage in dialogue before that time.”
Bishop Fisher, a member of the group Bishops United Against Gun Violence, joined a rally outside the headquarters of the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson in his diocese earlier this year. The rally was led by high-school students in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, which left 17 teenagers and members of staff dead.
The diocese of Western Massachusetts voted just before Christmas to buy stock in a gun manufacturer. Dr Fisher said: “Even if you don’t get shareholder resolutions passed, if you stay with it long enough . . . people start to take notice. It’s not something that gets ignored.”
The Episcopal Church has an investment portfolio worth about $400 million. Although it has frequently used its holdings to exert pressure on companies, it has veered away from investments in arms. It operates a “no-buy” list which prohibits it from buying shares in tobacco companies, for-profit prison companies, and companies that earn more than a specific percentage of their business as military contractors.
The Church was involved earlier this year in shareholder activism to persuade a sports goods company, in which it held shares, to stop selling assault weapons at its 35 stores.
Research by the NPS (Naval Postgraduate School) Center for Homeland Defense and Security suggests that 2018 has been by far the worst on record for gun violence in schools. It counted 94 school-shooting incidents in 2018, a near 60-per-cent increase on the previous high, 59 in 2006. The deadliest mass shootings were the Parkland shooting, and the murder of 14 students and the wounding of 14 more at Sante Fe High School in Texas.