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  • OccidentalCollegeLogoNumerous institutions of higher education have become hotbeds of divestment and disinvestment--particularly from fossil fuels. Occidental College has just joined the fray with its recent decision--possibly the first by any American college or university--to ban all investments in companies that manufacture assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines for the general public. 

    Apparently, Occidental College trustees made this decision after some faculty members--compelled by the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut--urged them to do so in order to  "be a voice of reason in a world of a lot of violence."

    Despite this supposedly noble pursuit, a few simple realities explain why a ban on investment remains a poor policy.

    Where will a ban end?

    Faculty members' pressuring Occidental to ban investments in firearms manufacturing companies should have engendered deep concern from officials at the college. Instead, the trustees have chosen to agree with these faculty members. Where will this stop? Will trustees also ban investments in alcoholic beverage companies because violent drunks cause fatalities? Will they ban investments in auto manufacturing companies because 33,561 people died in 2012 from auto-related incidents? And will they someday ban investments in food manufacturing companies because some foods can contribute to obesity, which researchers have found may have caused up to 18% of deaths in America in recent decades?

    A ban prevents debate

    While a ban certainly allows Occidental to take a public stand against gun violence, it fails to make any meaningful impact. It is likely that by refusing to invest in firearms manufacturers, Occidental College will merely shift potential ownership of shares in such companies to other willing parties in the market. A ban prevents communication between the college and manufacturers, resulting in even less of a possibility for discourse. If Occidental officials truly wish to reduce gun violence, then they would sit at the table and participate in a productive debate rather than shun discussion.

    A ban is not black and white

    In the case that Occidental's ban were to somehow harm firearms manufacturers, how would the college respond to the concerns of security officials? Unlike the black and white picture painted by proponents of a ban, firearms are critically important to modern life. Some of the very companies which sell firearms to private individuals also sell them to local and federal security agencies and to the military, forces which have all many times over helped to maintain order and peace. Ultimately, if this policy were to harm firearms manufacturers, it would also harm the ability of security personnel to do their jobs.   

    An institution which purports to prepare students to enter a "complex" and "interdependent" world has taken the easy road in the debate on gun violence. This decision reveals the leadership of Occidental to be disciples of showmanship and unreason rather than reason and scholarship.

    Raj Kannappan is the Program Officer for Young Americans for Freedom Chapter Services.

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