April 10, 2018 (SFChronicle.com)
At the San Francisco “March for Our Lives” rally on March 24, speakers urged everyone to divest of any investments they might have in the gun and ammunition industries. They detailed how such investments often are buried in many retirement and pension accounts, mutual funds, and more.
“Are you unknowingly supporting the gun industry?” one young woman pointedly asked.
Why might this matter? We now know all too much of our nation’s tragic and bloody gun violence problem. Beyond being reminded by recurrent mass shootings, the ongoing slaughter includes close to 100 people per day, including suicides. Gun lobbyists argue these are unavoidable, or only “mental health” problems, but the undeniable truth — now known despite efforts to suppress gun-related research — is that where there are more guns, there is more carnage.
And that sane restrictions on gun sales, ownership, storage and use can save lives, are constitutional even under the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Second Amendment, and are supported by very strong majorities of Americans, including most gun owners.
So why the lack of progress? One of the biggest factors in maintaining the tragic status quo is the gun lobby — infamously the National Rifle Association — which kills almost any effort to further regulate guns.
The NRA’s work is about money — for the gun and ammo industries, and for themselves. Thus it seems decreasing their profiteering might be an effective tactic to decrease the slaughter. Responsible companies refusing to sell weapons or to advertise or accept advertising of them are good steps. Divestment could be another. Movements to remove organizational and individual investments from unhealthy and objectionable industries and practices, such as the tobacco industry and apartheid in South Africa, have gained medical and public health professional support and had positive impact.
So it’s time to practice what we preach. I am a 35-year customer of San Francisco’s Wells Fargo bank. I’ve liked that my bank is based here in my home city. However, I was dismayed to read in the New York Times last month that “Wells Fargo is the largest financier in the nation of the gun industry and is the main bank for the National Rifle Association.” Further research reveals that Wells Fargo has lent more than $400 million to the gun industry in the past five years — since the slaughter of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School — and has remained unapologetic about such practices.
I have attempted to remain a loyal customer despite Wells Fargo’s scandals of recent years, pending the new leadership’s efforts to confront those. But as a public health professional and medical ethicist, I cannot overlook this link to an industry partly responsible for the ongoing gun violence in our nation.
Gun violence is a public health and medical epidemic that cannot be supported, and “thoughts and prayers” aren’t nearly enough. Thus I wish to announce publicly my intent to divest all my resources from Wells Fargo, and to urge others to do likewise. Beyond talking to your own adviser and banker, there are resources online to help do this; goodbyegunstocks.com is just one.
Of course, should Wells Fargo choose to publicly remedy this shameful problem soon, I will gladly reconsider. But I sincerely hope my hometown bank will do the right thing.
Steve Heilig is public health director for the San Francisco Marin Medical Society, co-editor of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, and was certified as an NRA Junior Marksman as an adolescent.