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Opinion

BU Should Divest from Gun Manufacturers

Would send clear message: firearms industry’s actions are “clearly unacceptable”

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In spring 2006, the Board of Trustees of Boston University declared that “divestment action should be considered rarely and only in the face of human suffering that is wholly inconsistent with the moral and ethical values of Boston University.” This was an explanation for their choice to divest from companies involved in Sudan during the country’s civil war; it was the most recent time that the board chose to divest based on a social issue.

In 2014, two years after 20 children and 6 teachers were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Board rejected a proposal that Boston University divest from the firearms industry until meaningful gun control has been achieved. As a part of their refusal to divest from the firearms industry, the board released a list of criteria for future divestment, stating that these decisions should “occur in only the clearest of circumstances,” and that these circumstances exist only 1) when “the degree of social harm caused by the actions of the firms in the asset class is clearly unacceptable” and 2) “when any potential negative consequences of the decision (including the risk of censorship of competing views within the University or the risk that the wisdom of the decision will fail to withstand the test of time) are clearly outweighed by the importance of taking the divestment action in order to lessen or mitigate the social harm.” According to Robert Knox (CAS’74, Questrom’75, Hon.’17), then board chair, the board took the outlined principles into consideration, but chose not to adopt the proposal.

That raises the question: is the current degree of social harm caused by firearms and the firearms industry acceptable to Boston University?

Does the Board of Trustees find it acceptable that 115,000 people in the United States have been killed by gun violence in the three and a half years since their decision to continue to profit from the firearms industry? Is the social harm caused by the 36 mass shootings that have occurred since the tragedy at Sandy Hook not clear enough to Boston University?

On February 14, 14 children and 3 teachers were murdered at a high school in Parkland, Fla. In the two months since then, there have been 9 more shootings at schools. How many more children need to die in their classrooms before Boston University finds that the circumstances are clear enough to take action?

Every week, 25 children die from gun violence in the United States. Out of the 23 most developed nations, 87 percent of the children killed by guns are in the United States. Every year, 38,000 people in the United States die from gun violence, while another 85,000 are injured. Is this level of human suffering consistent with the moral and ethical values of Boston University?

The firearms industry, especially the National Rifle Association (NRA), continues to manipulate the American political realm, fighting against regulations that are proven to make us safer. The NRA spent millions of dollars in campaign contributions in 2016, buying their way onto lawmakers’ agendas.

The NRA wants to prohibit doctors from talking to suicidal patients about guns, when we know that the majority of firearms deaths in this country are from suicides rather than homicides. The NRA opposes an assault weapons ban, background checks, and raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm

The firearms industry wants anyone to have access to a bump stock, the tool that enabled the shooter in Las Vegas last year to fire 9 rounds per second, killing 58 people and injuring 851 in 10 minutes.

In 2005, the NRA and the firearms industry successfully conned Congress into shielding gunmakers and gun sellers from being accountable for the harm that their products cause. Is this the type of industry that Boston University wants to profit from?

Will divesting from the firearms industry cause gun manufacturers to go bankrupt? Probably not. But at the Boston University School of Public Health, we’re taught to engage with difficult issues to improve the health and well-being of our society. We’re taught that a key role of public health is “making the acceptable unacceptable.” Divesting from the firearms industry will send a clear message that its actions are unacceptable, and Boston University will no longer make a profit from their behavior.

We know that meaningful gun control reduces gun violence. We know that restrictions on gun ownership reduce mass shootings. We know that when there are fewer guns around, there are fewer suicides. What evidence could make the circumstances more clear for the Board of Trustees?

In one of his many pieces about gun violence, written after the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas, Sandro Galea, SPH dean and Robert A. Knox Professor, wrote that mass shootings and gun violence will continue “until we summon the political courage to finally do something.”

Does Boston University have that courage?

Emily Popky (SPH’19) can be reached at epopky@bu.edu.

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.

11 Comments

11 Comments on BU Should Divest from Gun Manufacturers

  • Paul on 04.17.2018 at 8:31 am

    Gun violence is a big problem in the US, however I don’t think this article fairly presents the benefits that guns provide to society (when in the hands of responsible owners of course). For example, according to the CDC, there are anywhere from 500,000 to 3 million defensive uses of a firearm per year, yet the article only presents statistics which demonize firearms.

    Also It’s not fair to pin the deaths of students on BU, the NRA, or the gun industry as a whole.

  • Nathan Phillips on 04.17.2018 at 8:32 am

    Emily, you make an excellent case. The trustees should re-open its consideration of divestment from assault weapon manufacturers. Let the NRA give BU an “F” grade; it will be our badge of courage.

  • Mike on 04.17.2018 at 9:39 am

    They didn’t divest in 2014 because gun manufacturing stocks were skyrocketing at the time due to all the controversy around potentially banning assult weapons. Now that the stocks have corrected it’s an easier sell to the board. Will BU also divest from car manufacturers though over auto deaths? Or pharma companies due to overdoses which account for much higher death rates….nah didn’t think so.

  • Susan on 04.17.2018 at 10:47 am

    I agree completely – thanks for writing!

  • Gwyn on 04.17.2018 at 1:25 pm

    The premise is incorrect – guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Maybe BU should divest from people. They are the root of the problem. If you truly want change, it requires personal accountability, personal responsibility AND personal action. No blanket solution or law will solve the human condition. We have to move past blame and generalizations and get personal. Taking care of each other, treating others with respect. Respecting differences, arguing with intelligence and agreeing to disagree. If we continue down the path of control and power no one will have any humaneness left.

  • Geoff on 04.17.2018 at 2:18 pm

    What complete nonsense. This piece is full of misinformation and outright lies.

    “Does the Board of Trustees find it acceptable that 115,000 people in the United States have been killed by gun violence…” What is “gun violence”? Is it any more acceptable that people are killed in automobile accidents, knifed to death, or commit suicide through overdoses?

    “Is the social harm caused by the 36 mass shootings that have occurred since the tragedy at Sandy Hook not clear enough to Boston University?” How many people are killed by these “mass shootings” every year? What is the trend? And how does it compare to other causes of death? In what way is the production and availability of guns to law abiding citizens responsible for these mass shootings?

    “On February 14, 14 children and 3 teachers were murdered at a high school in Parkland, Fla. In the two months since then, there have been 9 more shootings at schools. How many more children need to die in their classrooms before Boston University finds that the circumstances are clear enough to take action?” When one examines the facts, it is clear that first, the perpetrator was mentally ill and violent. He was reported multiple times to local authorities and the FBI and they did nothing. Furthermore, he was enabled by a policy, pushed by the Obama Regime and the school board of not reporting criminal behavior. Clearly the problem is not guns, themselves, which are merely tools, but the culture and policies that enable these tragedies. As far as the link you provide to the other ” 9 more shootings at schools” it provides no support for your position. Obviously 1 school shooting is too much, but in a nation of 325M people, that’s a pretty minimal number.

    “Every week, 25 children die from gun violence in the United States.” Define “gun violence”. From the article you cite, “They found that the annual rate of firearm homicides among African-American children (3.5 per 100,000) was nearly 10 times the rate among whites.” Doesn’t sound like a gun problem, but a cultural problem.

    “The firearms industry, especially the National Rifle Association (NRA), continues to manipulate the American political realm, fighting against regulations that are proven to make us safer.” No. It is you and your ilk that manipulates the “American political realm”, whatever that is, twisting facts and exploiting tragedies.

    “The NRA spent millions of dollars in campaign contributions in 2016, buying their way onto lawmakers’ agendas.” It’s a shame that people with which you disagree band together in voluntary organizations to lobby the government to protect their natural and constitutionally guaranteed rights…according to you.

    “The NRA wants to prohibit doctors from talking to suicidal patients about guns, when we know that the majority of firearms deaths in this country are from suicides rather than homicides.” No, the NRA opposes the politicization of healthcare, as should every sane person. Guns are not healthcare.

    “The NRA opposes an assault weapons ban, background checks, and raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm” This is a flat-out LIE. First, real “assault weapons” that are, essentially automatic weapons are already highly restricted. These, so called, “assault weapons” you’re alluding to are nothing more than common semi-automatic rifles which are functionally no different than many rifles in common use for hunting and other purposes. In fact, the AR-15, about which you and your ilk wish to foment hysteria differs only in its looks and the ability to add accessories. Its rounds are also, in its most common form actually relatively low power .223, which aren’t even legal for hunting large game such as deer in most jurisdictions. Also, most people that are killed by firearms are killed by handguns, not rifles, so banning these “assault weapons” would do almost nothing. The NRA does not oppose background checks and is fully in favor of keeping firearms away from felons, the mentally ill, and others who should not possess firearms. But, since possessing a weapon to defend oneself is a natural and constitutionally guaranteed right, it should only be restricted after due process. It is true that many, including the NRA, oppose raising the minimum age to purchase firearm. But in what world does it make sense to prevent an 18 year old adult, who otherwise is responsible and entitled to the rights of citizen–to vote and to serve in the military–from purchasing firearms, especially since it does nothing but restrict their rights with no enhancement of safety?

    “The firearms industry wants anyone to have access to a bump stock, the tool that enabled the shooter in Las Vegas last year to fire 9 rounds per second, killing 58 people and injuring 851 in 10 minutes.” This is complete nonsense. Why don’t you get educated on what bump stock is and isn’t by reading the following: http://thefederalist.com/2017/10/09/411-bump-stocks-everyones-talking-las-vegas-shooting/ and http://thefederalist.com/2018/02/22/trumps-proposed-bump-stock-ban-either-lawless-stupid/ A bump stock didn’t enable the killing of more people. It was the shooter’s protected and advantageous position that enabled the killing of so many. Bump stocks provide virtually no advantage and actually reduce accuracy. It’s likely the shooter could have killed many more by the enhanced accuracy of not using a bump stock.

    “In 2005, the NRA and the firearms industry successfully conned Congress into shielding gunmakers and gun sellers from being accountable for the harm that their products cause. Is this the type of industry that Boston University wants to profit from?” Nobody was conned into doing anything. Do we hold manufacturers of knives accountable when people are stabbed and slashed? Do we hold automotive manufacturers liable when someone intentionally runs down a person or drives drunk. This was a common sense reaction to the hysteria and attempts to restrict the rights of citizens through stealth.

    “We know that meaningful gun control reduces gun violence. We know that restrictions on gun ownership reduce mass shootings. We know that when there are fewer guns around, there are fewer suicides. What evidence could make the circumstances more clear for the Board of Trustees?” No. We don’t. What we can see is that people intending to do violence will find a way to commit violence in the absence of the availability of firearms, whether it is knives, machetes (as London is now teaching us), bombs, clubs, bike chains, and all manner of means of committing violence. We can see that in some areas of the country with far more firearms there’s virtually no people dying from violence from firearms, while in many cities with the most restrictive firearms regulations look like a war zone. Why? Why the difference? It’s not the guns. It’s the people. It’s the culture. It’s their local governments that let criminals run free and harm innocent people.

    Stop lying. Also, there are many circumstances when a weaker individual has protected themselves from violence because they were armed. You don’t care about them, apparently.

  • Bill on 04.17.2018 at 6:36 pm

    “We know that meaningful gun control reduces gun violence.”
    And all other violence stops also, right?

  • Jose Azocar on 04.17.2018 at 9:16 pm

    Emily, I am having trouble valuing your opinion given the fact that it is completely based in incorrect “facts” and very flawed logic. The NRA supports background checks, in fact, their response to the parkland shooting was to enhance the background check procedures that we already have in place to make them more effective. Japan has very strict gun laws (and small gun ownership) yet the highest suicide rate in the entire world. I also do not understand your logic about “meaningful gun control.” There is not a definition at all in your article about it. “Gun control” is such a broad term, and in general, restrictions on LEGAL firearm purchasing has no effect or even adverse effects in gun violence in the US. The state with the strictest gun laws, Illinois, has the most firearm violence. Other states with strict gun laws, such as MA, have not seen any changes in gun violence since the implementation of legal purchase restrictions. I understand your desire to save the whole world from mass shootings and gun violence, who doesn’t? But you need to be more informed to make meaningful change. Please consider what the NRA and the “right” are trying to do. We have a system set in place to prevent gun violence already, let’s make the best use of it. The FBI and police can do a better job on cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and criminals with intent to harm. We can continue to push for mental health awareness and diagnosing people. Allow for healthy, legal gun owners to carry where they please to protect themselves and others from those with intent to harm.

    • Bill on 04.18.2018 at 11:32 am

      Well said Jose. As a MA licensed gun owner, I have been background checked back to grade school. Literally. They don’t miss anything.

  • Nathan Phillips on 04.21.2018 at 12:48 pm

    Can the NRA defenders here explain its total silence on legal gun owner Philando Castille’s murder by police?

  • John OHara on 06.08.2018 at 2:42 pm

    Should have thought what criteria should be that it would be acceptable to invest in asset class. For example, the social harm caused by actions in the asset class are indisputably beneficial to children. Afterall no asset, like no executive is indispensable.

    1) when “the degree of social harm caused by the actions of the firms in the asset class is clearly unacceptable” and 2) “when any potential negative consequences of the decision (including the risk of censorship of competing views within the University or the risk that the wisdom of the decision will fail to withstand the test of time) are clearly outweighed by the importance of taking the divestment action in order to lessen or mitigate the social harm.”

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