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California teachers stage coordinated protests against gun investments (VIDEO)

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A California teachers’ union staged protests in Sacramento and Los Angeles on Thursday to voice concerns over its retirement money being invested in a company that manufactures the rifle type used in the Sandy Hook school massacre.

The California Federation of Teachers is seeking to pressure the California State Teachers’ Retirement System to divest $500 million from Cerberus Asset Management, an investment firm that owns a stake in Remington Outdoor, manufacturer of the Bushmaster rifle used during the December 2012 Connecticut school shooting, the state teachers union announced.

“It is long past time for CalSTRS to finish what it started two years ago,” said Jeff Freitas, CFT secretary treasurer. 

CalSTRS in January 2013 voted to divest retirement funds “from companies that manufacture firearms that are illegal for sale or possession in the state of California.

The amount actually invested in Remington is closer to $375 million, CalSTRS spokesperson Michael Sicilia told The $500 million figure cited by the union is the maximum amount that can be put toward the private equity investment, Sicilia said.

The retirement board – responsible for managing an estimated $190.8 billion in retirement funds for 879,000 California educators and their families – made a similar decision in 2009 to divest from tobacco companies.

In a statement made Wednesday, CalSTRS said that following its 2013 decision to divest, the retirement board pulled $3 million in public equity stocks from Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, with no similar investments made since.

At that time, Cerberus said it would sell its shares of Remington Outdoor, formerly Freedom Group, but has not yet done so.

As we continue to push them on this front, we have also worked to exercise patience and give them time to execute what is a complicated transaction,” Sicilia said.

Sicilia cited legal and contractual obligations which prohibit CalSTRS from severing ties with the investment firm – provisions it has sought to eliminate in future agreements. One provision would allow CalSTRS to opt out of any firearms-related investments.   

“More importantly, we cannot take unilateral action, in this case, to remove a specific company from an investment pool,” Sicilia said. “Nor can we expose the fund by prematurely or imprudently selling about $375 million worth of holdings at a loss without thoroughly exhausting all other options first.”    

During the protest, or teach-in, union protestors “gave a lesson” and screened “Gun-free Retirement,” a Brave New Films documentary that looks at the history of gun violence, the economics of divestment and the influence the gun industry has had on American government.

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