December 16, 2017
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Local Globalists: You’re Probably Spending Money on the Gun Industry. This Woman Wants to Help You Stop

By Gila Lyons

This fall, the United Nations is preparing to launch its 17 Sustainable Development Goals—an extraordinary action plan to solve the world’s biggest problems by 2030. Over the coming months, we’ll be connecting with The Local Globalists: 17 nonprofit founders, entrepreneurs, and social innovators who are working every day, wherever they are, to turn one of the U.N.’s #globalgoals into reality. 

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

This summer has been a particularly violent one for the United States, from the massacre of nine parishioners in Charleston to an alarming spike in the rate of gun homicides in many U.S. cities. Ask 45-year-old Jennifer Fiore, co-founder and executive director of Campaign to Unload, what’s going on and she doesn’t equivocate: "This is not a mass shooting issue, or a domestic violence, suicide, or police shooting issue alone—it is all of those and more, and it affects all of us, white and black, urban and rural, rich and poor. Only if we work together can we make change."

As a coalition of more than 50 organizations representing over 20 million Americans, Campaign to Unload aims to make that kind of large-scale collaboration happen through a series of smaller campaigns intended to hit irresponsible gunmakers where it hurts: their sources of funding. Maybe you saw Snoop Dogg’s video urging viewers to make sure their 401(k) portfolios didn’t include investments in gun manufacturing. Or perhaps you read The Nation’spiece advising UC Santa Barbara to divest from the gun industry in the wake of the 2014 shooting that resulted in six deaths there. If so, you’ve seen the results of Campaign to Unload’s efforts.

One of Fiore’s first actions was to bring people into the halls of Congress in April 2013, when legistlators were voting to pass a bill that would require background checks for those who wanted to purchase guns. “I led groups of women with strollers full of cranky toddlers through the marble halls of Congress reading names of victims of gun violence since the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007,” she says.

Later that day, Fiore and all those mothers waited in the gallery of the capitol building, where they found out the bill didn’t make it through. “Vice President Biden very simply and probably quite sadly took the gavel and brought it down and said the bill failed, short by four votes. On the other side of the gallery, two women, Patricia Maisch, the grandmother who had tackled and disarmed Representative Gabby Giffords’ shooter, and Lori Haas, whose daughter was injured in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, stood up and shouted, ‘Shame on you!’ Capitol police detained them,” Fiore says.

Fiore was dumbfounded and outraged— 90 percent of the U.S. public wanted this bill and even stronger bills to pass, 85 percent of all Americans and 79 percent of gun-owning Americans wanted background checks, and 49 percent of all gun-owners supported a federal gun registry. She knew the path forward had to be economic.

A month ago, Fiore received a call from a current public advocate in New York City to confer about divesting the city’s pension funds. They were proposing divesting $100 million from Walmart, the nation’s largest gun retailer. Not long after, Walmart announced that its U.S. stores would no longer sell assault weapons or high capacity ammunition magazines. (They claimed the decision was based on poor sales performances of those products—not politics.)

Money: It’s why Campaign to Unload trains college students to work with their boards of trustees to divest endowments from guns. Thanks to their work with University of California students, the UC system quietly announced this July that their $90 billion endowment is now gun-free. And after the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, then New York City Public Advocate—now New York City mayor—Bill de Blasio, along with elected officials nation-wide, launched a campaign to urge hedge funds and money managers to divest from the manufacturers of assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips. Since the campaign’s inception, 10 hedge funds and money managers have completely divested their gun holdings. Ten may not sound like a lot, but those holdings have been valued at $170 million. Since then, 12 other money management firms have scaled back their gun investments by 25 percent—that’s 5.7 million shares. 

Still, there’s a long way to go. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that America is way ahead of other wealthy Western countries in terms of gun violence. And according to the Human Development Index, in 2012 the United States had six times the number of gun homicides as Canada, and 15 times as many as Germany. There have been an average of 33,000 gun deaths America per year over the last seven years, and 2015 has averaged more than one mass shooting a day, according to this Washington Post story.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much Campaign to Unload can do on its own. Despite its seemingly national reach and impressive ability to move huge sums of money around, Campaign to Unload operates on a shoestring budget, and most members are volunteers. Fiore works a full-time job in Washington, D.C.; her work on behalf of Campaign to Unload is entirely pro bono.

Most funders of gun violence prevention don’t fund divestment,” she explains. But there are a few things you can do right now—or, at the very least, soon. In addition to donating to Campaign to Unload:

  • Divest your 401(k) investments from gun manufacturing. Find out how here.
  • Ask your alma matter to unload. If you are an alumni of a university with a big endowment, express to the endowment manager that the university “shouldn’t fund itself on the backs of dead people,” as Fiore’s colleague, whose daughter survived the Virginia Tech shooting, said.
  • Request and work with employers to create a gun-free retirement plan.
  • Support people who are working for stronger gun laws on the community and policy levels.
  • Call your members of Congress to ask for stronger gun laws. Fiore says, “The minority of people who want weaker gun laws call the offices every single day. They call their member of Congress and say, ‘I don’t want you to do anything to my second amendment rights.’ We who want stronger laws, don’t call. Members of Congress need to hear us directly.”
  • Vote! For officials—local and national—who will stand up to the NRA and other lobbyists to strengthen gun laws.

America is a first world country that has the gun violence problem of the third world,” says Fiore. “To end the epidemic of gun violence, we have to put the gun lobby in check, and we can't do that without corporate partners. Money talks, and when we divest from companies that oppose our core values we send a powerful message. That message is starting to get through. Our momentum will reach the tipping point soon and we'll see meaningful, lasting change.”


- Originally appeared at GOOD.Is