October 15, 2015
By Public Advocate Letitia James
On January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner walked into a Walmart and purchased gun ammunition. Within three hours of this purchase at a local Walmart he opened fire and callously murdered six individuals and severely injured thirteen others – including former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
On July 11th, 2015, Mohammad Abdulazeez walked into a Walmart in and purchased gun ammunition. Five days later, in a domestic act of terrorism, he killed four U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy Sailor at a U.S. Navy Reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
And with the latest mass shooting just this month in Roseburg, Oregon – our gun epidemic is back at the top of national headlines.
There are 33,000 deaths from firearms in the United States every year. In the Bronx, there have been 245 shooting incidents this year alone.
As the nation’s largest retailer of guns and ammunition, Walmart’s contribution to these tragedies are clear. But what many New Yorkers may not know is that their public pension dollars are helping support Walmart as it peddles weapons of death across the country.
That’s why, as a trustee of New York City Employee Retirement System (NYCERS), I am calling for all five of the City’s pension boards to immediately divest all funds from Walmart. And I am proud to say that NYCERS, the City’s largest pension fund, has begun the divestment process by overwhelmingly passing my resolution at a recent board meeting.
Walmart actively promotes the sale of guns. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has called the “sporting and outdoors” section an integral part of the store’s business and said that he would continue selling guns. Walmart hides behind the illusion of guns for sport, but Walmart sells everything from hunting rifles to assault weapons to high capacity magazines.
These weapons have no place in our society and I refuse to believe that any civilian has business owning an AR-15 or an AK-47. There is no reason for a civilian to need tactical gear fit for the military. But Walmart’s reckless promotion of guns does not end with their sale; Walmart’s support of guns is deeply engrained in their company’s ethos.
Walmart has an extensive history of donating millions to political candidates favored by the National Rifle Association. Prior to increased public scrutiny, Walmart supported the American Legislative Exchange Council – a conservative advocacy group that actively opposes sensible gun reform and who played a direct role in drafting Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law.
A company that actively sells and supports guns has no place in our community. Our pension dollars should reflect our values and not bolster Walmart’s dominance. New York City must divest the hundreds of millions of dollars it has invested in Walmart, dollars that are fueling violence and undermining the greater public interest.
As the Public Advocate, but most importantly as a New Yorker, I will continue to do everything in my power to keep guns off our streets. Part of this means stopping our City’s support of gun retailers, starting with Walmart. Together, we can make our community safer, and our City’s investments more responsible.
*** Letitia “Tish” James is New York City’s third Public Advocate and was the first African American woman elected to citywide office in 2013.