Broward Teachers: Divest Our Pensions From Gun Makers

Jun 15, 2018

Broward County teachers want their retirement money out of companies that make guns.

The Florida Retirement System holds shares worth more than $1.7 million in three companies that manufacture firearms, according to last year's annual report of the pension plan. That includes the maker of the AR-15 that was used to kill 17 people and injure 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

Half of the members of the Florida Retirement System are teachers or school staff. They started paying into the state pension fund for the first time in 2011, contributing 3 percent of their salaries, and they don’t have a say in where the money goes.

“I’m paying for investments with gun manufacturers against my will,” Diana Haneski, the library media specialist at Stoneman Douglas, said during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Broward Teachers Union headquarters in Tamarac.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rising senior Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, left, looks on as Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon speaks during the press conference at the teachers' union headquarters.
Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN

A student who survived the massacre and the mother of a victim who is now running for school board joined the teachers’ union and state legislators in calling on Gov. Rick Scott to sell the shares the pension fund holds in the gun companies. They are Vista Outdoor Inc.; Sturm & Ruger Co.; and American Outdoor Brands Corp., previously known as Smith & Wesson, which makes the AR-15.

“Governor Rick Scott, … you have turned our teachers’ retirement fund into blood money,” Stoneman Douglas rising senior Mei-Ling Ho-Shing said during the news conference. “No teacher wants your unhealthy decisions on their soul. No teacher wants to be armed with weapons, especially during a time like this."

“Where is your moral compass?” she said.

A spokesman for Scott said the governor’s office has “no role in individual investment decisions.” Scott chairs the board of trustees that governs the State Board of Administration, a public entity that manages the pension fund.

Lori Alhadeff lost her daughter, Alyssa, in the shooting. She has now announced a run for the Broward County school board, along with Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina, was killed.

“The shooter ... went to my daughter’s classroom, and he shot through the classroom with an AR-15 gun directly at my daughter 10 times,” Alhadeff said. “We all need to come together, Republican and Democrats, … and make these changes.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, said the state is investing not just in the gun that was used in Parkland but ones that are used often in minority communities in Miami-Dade County.

The group argued it's not unprecedented for Florida leaders to divest from companies that go against the state's values. For example, a state law prevents the pension plan from investing in companies that boycott Israel.

The pension fund’s holdings in gun manufacturers account for very little of the overall $154 billion portfolio. The Florida Retirement System is one of the biggest pension plans in the country.

Teachers’ political pressure on Scott to withdraw state investments in gun companies mirrors students’ recent push to persuade companies like Publix and Disney to denounce Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for governor and earlier this year branded himself “a proud NRA sellout.” As a result of student activism, Publix suspended political donations.

The students who planned the March For Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., in March recently announced a plan to travel the country this summer registering young people to vote and encouraging them to support candidates who favor gun control.