Content Warning: This article discusses gun violence.
In reaction to the increasing number of mass shootings across the country, Students Demand Action is running a campaign to urge Western Washington University to divest in the gun industry. The campaign will launch with a rally on April 12 in Red Square from noon to 2:00 p.m.
Students Demand Action is a national organization focused on ending gun violence. The Western branch was founded in part by Flynn Williams, a first-year student and National Advisory Board member. After feeling tired of seeing countless gun violence headlines, Williams got involved with the organization during high school.
“Since then, I've discovered even more reasons to keep going with the work,” he said.
For Williams, gun violence is an issue that is exceedingly personal. He said he believes the gun industry has been consistently putting money over lives and that it needs to take responsibility for its complacency in response to gun violence across the country.
“By putting pressure on universities to divest, it will hurt the gun industry where money talks,” Williams said.
According to Mary Bernstein, associate dean of the graduate school and professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, investment in the gun industry is not a simple subject. Bernstein has done extensive research on gun violence prevention advocacy.
“One of the issues is that a lot of people probably own gun stocks, but they really don't know because they can be part of a mutual fund, index fund or ETF,” she said.
The stocks involved in this issue aren’t necessarily limited to gun manufacturers. There are ammunition companies; retailers that sell guns and financial corporations, like credit card companies, that facilitate guns being purchased.
“It's a really big issue to even figure out how invested a particular group is in the gun industry,” said Bernstein.
The Foundation, Western’s main source of funding for scholarships and programs, uses endowment funds to help continue its work. According to Mark Brovak, associate vice president for finance and operations and vice president and CFO of the Foundation, Western invests in commingled funds, which are similar to mutual funds and a common form of investment by similar institutions.
“WWU’s commingled funds in its portfolio have no investments in either of the two publicly traded U.S. arms manufacturers, American Outdoor Brands or Sturm, Ruger,” he said.
This doesn’t affect the campaign much, as SDA’s cause goes beyond prompting the university to divest in the present.
“If they're not invested, we would like them to adopt that into their official policy so that it makes a statement that they won't in the future be invested in the gun industry,” Williams said.
SDA hopes to work with Western to ensure that their finances are being responsibly allocated. It’s unclear what impact this campaign will have, especially outside of the university.
“Would it change the behavior of the gun industry? Not likely. But would it cause lawmakers to take this topic more seriously? It might, if the divestment was a broad movement impacting other campuses as well,” Brovak said.
The possibility of the gun industry’s behavior being impacted is not out of the question.
“Do you think you're going to impact the bottom line? Not by yourself. On the other hand, if this became a bigger movement then it could in theory have a broader impact,” Bernstein said.
The divestment campaign is being promoted on campuses across the country by other branches of SDA. The rally in Red Square will be an opportunity for students to learn more and to show Western that this is an issue that is being taken seriously.
“A lot of the people that we've spoken to don't necessarily know that this is a thing that’s happening,” Williams said.
There are a lot of people trying to pressure the gun industry in different ways. The most important part, according to Bernstein, is to be aware of your goals and to think about how you can work with others to accomplish them.
“I think that every little bit that can contribute to averting even one gun injury or gun death is important,” she said.
Kumiko Juker (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. When she's not checking her email, she enjoys spending time with her friends, writing poetry and accumulating random knowledge. She can be reached at email@example.com.