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Florida’s pension fund urges guns manufacturers to act responsibly

In signing the “Principles for a Responsible Civilian Firearms Industry” last month, Florida joined more than a dozen public pension funds and investment companies that have adopted the document.
Ash Williams, executive director of the Florida State Board of Administration, during the Cabinet meeting Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO
Ash Williams, executive director of the Florida State Board of Administration, during the Cabinet meeting Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO
Published Dec. 4, 2018

Florida has joined a coalition of major pension funds and investment companies that have adopted a set of principles aimed at encouraging gun manufacturers and retailers to act responsibly.

Ash Williams, executive director of the State Board of Administration, which oversees the state pension fund and other investments, said the agreement carries no mandates for gun-related companies. But he said it is designed to raise awareness of issues that could impact the value of investments in the firearms industry.

"We're not telling anybody, any private company, exactly what they should be doing. Our concern is motivated very simply by one thing, as fiduciaries anything that poses a risk to the value of the assets that we own on behalf of our beneficiaries, we want to make sure we're managing it properly," Williams said in an interview with The News Service of Florida.

"By extension, if there is a risk or peril to the stock value of a company that we own in our portfolio, we want to make sure that company is, A, aware of it and, B, attentive to it. That's all this is," he said.

In signing the "Principles for a Responsible Civilian Firearms Industry" last month, Florida joined more than a dozen public pension funds and investment companies that have adopted the document.

"We believe that enterprises involved in the manufacturing, distribution, sale and enforcement of regulations of the firearms industry are well-positioned to support pragmatic transparency and safety measures that contribute to the responsible use of firearms," the document said.

The agreement said gun companies can apply the principles, which include measures like background checks and making guns easier to trace, "in a manner they deem appropriate."

The document also acknowledged numerous regulations already faced by the industry but said "more can be voluntarily done by companies within these existing regulatory boundaries to advance safety and the responsible use of civilian firearms."

The effort to adopt the firearms-industry principles was led by the California State Teachers Retirement System, which with some $229 billion in assets as of Sept. 30 is the largest educator-related pension fund in the world.

"This is not a political statement about constitutional rights," Christopher Ailman, chief investment officer for the California fund, said in a statement. "It is a joint assertion by all of the signatories that investors have a stake in advancing public safety."

Pension funds from Oregon, Maine, Connecticut and Maryland have also signed the agreement. Several investment companies, including Nuveen and State Street Global Advisors, are supporting the principles. The pension funds and companies managed nearly $5 trillion in assets as of the fall, according to a mid-November statement from the group.

Williams said there is an "ample history" of companies that have responded, both well and badly, when their products present safety risks.

He said a good example was Johnson & Johnson's response when tampering of Tylenol products became a problem. He said the company responded immediately, including creating a more secure package.

"Guess what? It solved the problem and the value of J & J has been strong ever since," Williams said. "Plenty of people have had to deal with product liability issues. They just need to be attentive."

Williams also said using the principles to encourage improvements in the firearms industry is a better step than facing calls for the pension fund to divest its gun-related investments.

"Our view is that divestiture is a very inefficient if not completely inappropriate tool for addressing social concerns," he said.

With a main pension fund of more than $160 billion and total investments being managed by the Board of Administration of more than $200 billion, Williams said the firearms-related investments held by Florida are "very small" in comparison to the overall funds.

Williams also said the adoption of the principles is not part of any effort to restrict constitutional gun rights.

"Many of us at the board are weapons owners and some of us have concealed-carry permits. This not about challenging the Second Amendment," he said.

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