Numerous 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
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
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
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.