With the announcement on Tuesday of the “Sandy Hook Principles” for corporate conduct, Mayor Michael Nutter set a new trajectory in his ongoing fight against gun violence aimed to hit irresponsible firearms manufacturers and retailers where it hurts – their wallets.
“Americans have economic power in how we choose to spend and invest our money,” Nutter said. “We can and should use that power to send a very strong message that irresponsible corporate behavior will not be tolerated.”
Nutter introduced a 20-point set of rules that he hopes companies involved in the creation or sale of guns or ammunition will follow. He’s urging investors to pull funds from those companies that don’t comply.
“I am asking all cities, states, transit systems, schools, colleges, universities, hedge fund and pension fund managers, venture capital funds and all other organizations that hold investments with private corporations to review the Sandy Hook Principles and consider their adoption as part of your investment strategy,” he said.
The city plans to start by putting its money where its mouth is. City Solicitor Shelley Smith will next week ask the Philadelphia Pension Board to adopt the Principles.
“We will audit where the investments are,” Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said. “And if they’re with someone involved directly or indirectly with gun manufacturers, we will ask them to adopt the Principles.”
Nutter and members of his administration said they were inspired by the work of Philadelphia-born Rev. Leon Sullivan, who in the 1970s helped turn public opinion against apartheid by drafting a set of principles for American companies operating in South Africa and boycotting those that didn’t adopt them.
“Philadelphia was one of the first pension funds to divest from companies doing business in South Africa,” Nutter said. “We saw that movement go all across this country to virtually every big city and other cities in America.”
He hopes history will repeat itself. “If more and more and more and more of us take this kind of action, it will amount to a lot of money,” he said. “And I believe the industry will have to then pay attention.”
“Like apartheid, the moral crisis of our time is gun violence,” Managing Director Richard Negrin said. We’re hoping this will start a groundswell.”
‘Putting our money where our values are’
Members of Nutter’s administration said that the Principles are not incompatible with constitutional rights.
“The idea is we all have a responsibility to respect the Second Amendment,” Gillison said. “But also to respect the right of free association and not to be shot. We are not inexperienced at putting our money where our values our and our values are life and responsible gun ownership.
“I want to invest in our community,” Nutter said. “And I don’t want our money going to folks who actually are contributors to the death and destruction on our streets each and every day.”
The administration also said the Principles are not a substitute for tougher federal gun laws or local law enforcement initiatives. “I am very focused on the legislative side, I am very focused on the legal side,” Nutter said.
“But there’s also a financial component and we need to bring pressure to bear to change the behavior of these companies to help ensure, notwithstanding whatever laws we pass, that their corporate behavior is not a contributing factor to lessening the safety of all of us in our city and all of us across the United States of America.”
Breaking it down
Some of the 20 principles that companies in which city money is invested will likely soon have to follow include:
– Supporting restrictions on firearm and ammunition sales to keep guns out of the hands of children, criminals and the mentally ill.
– Ensuring each firearm manufactured or sold has the appropriate safety device, encouraging firearms safety education at the time of sale and banning assault-type weapons and conversions.
– Supporting the creation of a universal federal background check system against which all gun sales are checked and urging states to automatically share all relevant information with that database.
– Monitoring gun sales to identify patterns – such as purchase timing or quantity – that indicate their buyer may be a straw purchaser.