Remembering VA Tech

Eleven years ago today, 32 people were massacred and 17 more wounded at Virginia Tech when senior Seung Hui Cho opened fire on campus with two semi-automatic handguns. At the time, it was a national shock -- the deadliest shooting by a single civilian in American history, registering nearly three times the casualty toll of Columbine eight years earlier.

Pause for a moment to recall the national fervor that resulted: President Bush was on-site for the convocation the next day. Governor Tim Kaine declared a state of emergency. The entire nation ostensibly engaged in a new dialogue around guns, gun violence, and gun legislation. And what happened?

The very same thing. Again. And again. And again and again, ad nauseam. Presidential visits of mourning were replaced with formulaic, pallid tweets; the collective response to each new shooting was less national horror than resigned familiarity. Mass shootings have become an accepted, practically expected, part of American life -- leading right up to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida two months ago.

Now, again, the entire nation is engaging in a new dialogue around guns, gun violence, and gun legislation. Things feel a bit different, this time. The March for Our Lives, in particular, demonstrated that young people and their allies are less willing to accept this state of affairs as normal.

And in recent months, pressure from activists has resulted in actual policy change from some of the banks and investments firms who have propped up gunmakers and sellers in this country for far too long. Bank of America has announced that it will stop lending to companies selling assault-style weapons to civilians. CitiGroup is introducing gun-based restrictions onto its clients, including banning business with companies who sell bump stocks. And BlackRock has created new investment funds that exclude companies who make or sell civilian firearms.

These are important victories. They should be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops -- we can make them change their ways! Consumer voices, citizen voices, are powerful, and the momentum following the tragedy in Parkland has demonstrated the power of collective action.

As we exercise the power of collective action, we can look at these victories as an important step forward toward a greater goal of reducing our investments in violence.  We need to continue to show that investing in companies that make a killing on killing is not good business and it is not in line with our shared values. Gun maker and seller stocks have been sinking in light of public perception; to offload those fiduciary relationships now is a good business move, with the added benefit of being on the moral high ground.

Let’s also look at the investments firms like Bank of America, Citigroup, and BlackRock are making in companies that manufacture weapons of war. For example, BlackRock has more than $5.6 billion invested in Lockheed Martin.  Bank of America has stocks valued at more than $1 billion in Raytheon, and Citigroup holds stocks valued at more than $156 million in Northrop Grumman. These companies are manufacturing the weapons used in places like Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq,and Afghanistan.  These weapons are contributing to environmental devastation at home and abroad. These weapons are causing millions of people to flee their homes in search of peace and a chance to live. These weapons are being mass produced at levels that can’t sustain themselves so they are being passed down to our local police forces and university campuses.   

The discussion around civilian weapons is a critical one to increasing our peace at home.  We can also talk about the weapons we use around the world, and how banks and investment managers need to keep going and completely divest from all weapons. It is absurd to live in a country which spends more than five times as much on its military as on its schools. During these Global Days of Action against Military spending, CODEPINK and our allies are calling for the complete divestment from the war machine -- both abroad and in our streets at home.

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