Kinjo Kiema: Put gun violence on the divestment agenda

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Maryland residents Josh Speiser and Amy Buck hold candles in Dupont Circle on the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in January 2013.

In the few short weeks since classes ended, the country has seen nine school shootings from Georgia to Washington state.

Gun violence in this country is all too common: About 30,000 people die every year from firearm homicides and suicides, and we have more gun violence here than in any other developed nation.

Such a vast problem may seem out of reach for students to tackle. But the debate is arriving on university campuses as we speak, starting with Occidental College in Los Angeles.

The small liberal arts school recently pledged that it will never invest in companies that manufacture military-style assault weapons and ammunition. That’s a significant commitment, as it limits Occidental’s potential for earning money in the future, but its board of trustees thought the moral arguments were too strong to avoid taking action.

If the divestment debate sounds familiar, it could be because students and faculty members across the country have called on their administrators to pull investments out of fossil fuel companies. This movement against global climate change has even taken hold at GW.

I’m inspired by Occidental College and say it’s time to add gun violence to our divestment agenda.

I tried to find out whether GW invests in any companies that manufacture guns or ammunition. Unfortunately, University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt declined to answer that question. Instead, Hiatt told me that GW “makes every effort to ensure that its investment portfolio is managed in both a legal and ethical manner.”

Disclosure of university investment in guns is an important first step. At the University of California, more than 13,000 people signed a petition to encourage the school to release a formal statement about gun divestment. Universities can take a clear stance by divesting now and ensuring the public that they will not invest in the gun industry in the future.

We know that divestment can effect change. The best example is South Africa during apartheid, when students realized that lobbying their schools to divest from the country was an effective way to draw attention to the problem. Thanks to student advocacy, many universities sold off their stocks in companies that did business in South Africa, and other businesses – as well as the federal government – were quick to follow.

Divestment from the apartheid regime impacted the nation’s politics more than its economy: It put “little discernible pressure” on the financial system, banks or businesses operating there, according to a 1999 study. But this action helped create worldwide awareness of South Africa’s discriminatory policies, and the surge in opposition was crucial in pushing the government to change.

By appealing to our schools, students can use the same tactics to start conversations about how to reduce gun violence. It’s one of the best ways to pressure the federal government to take action.

Occidental was the first to take this important first step – but divestment won’t have an impact on a large scale if only one school participates. If GW follows suit, it could create a domino effect just like what we saw during apartheid, eventually leading to political action that remedies our country’s gun violence epidemic.

Kinjo Kiema, a sophomore majoring in political communications, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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