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Commission urges R.I. gun divestment

The recommendation comes in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown last year

The State Investment Commission voted unanimously in favor of Rhode Island divesting from its stakes in gun distributors Wednesday.

Wellspring Capital Partners IV invests $3.8 million of state money in United Sporting Companies, an organization that distributes firearms, gun accessories and hunting supplies.

General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a likely 2014 gubernatorial candidate and the commission’s leader, promised to use the power of her office to influence gun policy in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting last December.

“As a mom and public official, I am deeply troubled by gun violence,” she said in a statement. “This is the right thing to do.”

Responses from officials across the state have been mixed.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 said though it is important to take a stance, it does not make sense to overburden the state’s pension fund with political statements.

“It doesn’t help retirees when the pension funds are so restricted,” he added. The state has already divested from several companies to stand in solidarity with different causes. “Where does it end?” he said.

Earlier this month, Chafee signed a bill divesting Rhode Island public funds from companies based in Iran. A 2007 law requires the state to divest from companies that support the Sudanese government.

Ken Block, the leader of the state’s Moderate Party, who is running for governor in 2014 as a Republican, called Raimondo’s divestment agenda “irresponsible and misguided” and told the Providence Journal she “is using pension assets to score political points and pander to certain constituencies.”

Mark Smiley, chairman of the state Republican Party, criticized Raimondo for what he called misguided priorities.

“She should be working to maximize the return on investment for all funds under her supervision,” he told the Journal.

Political blog Rhode Island’s Future lauded Raimondo’s divestment efforts.

Other pension funds across the country have divested from guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The Providence City Council passed a resolution in March to divest the city’s pension funds from companies that manufacture or distribute assault weapons. The California State Teachers Retirement System, one of the largest pension funds in the country, began the process of divesting from firearms last January, and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System voted to divest from guns last May. Chicago and Los Angeles have also initiated the process of divesting.

Raimondo’s office did not respond to requests for comment.



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