State Treasurer Zach Conine, a friend and fellow Nevada Business Magazine columnist, announced Nevada will divest $89 million in securities of companies that profit from the manufacture or sale of “assault-style” weapons. He did not provide a list of such companies but estimated the total value of Nevada’s gun-related holdings at $89 million on June 2, before sharp declines in securities markets. His office manages $49.3 billion in investments in five different funds. He will cease immediately new investments in such companies. Full implementation of the policies must be presented to the State Board of Finance and Board of Trustees of the College Savings Plans of Nevada for approval.
Conine said his office will assure the policy is implemented “in the most prudent fiscal manner possible,” with nothing sold at a loss and no negative effect on state investment portfolios. He also said the state will direct external financial managers and outside investment partners to take similar actions and limit business with manufacturers and sellers of “assault-style” weapons.
To be blunt, this initiative, inspired by recent mass shootings, is an empty, ineffectual gesture and example of a politician posturing and virtue-signaling as he faces re-election this November. It will not have any effect on the companies involved because the amounts Nevada holds in each are minimal to each firm. With the principal less than two-tenths of a percent of the state’s portfolio, gains or losses will also not make a material difference to taxpayers or other affected parties – although, of course, all amounts should be treated prudently.
However, if the measure’s purpose is to effect change in gun ownership and illegal use, let’s look at the facts. A recent article by Professor Daniel Hamlin of the University of Oklahoma in the Journal of Criminal Justice analyzed the relationship between state gun ownership rates and 1,275 school firearm incidents and 2,026 injured or killed victims from 1980 to 2019. The analysis found that gun ownership rates declined over that period, but incidents numbered 20 to 40 annually before jumping to 102 in 2018 and 110 in 2019.
According to the abstract, “Findings were mixed on the relationship between state gun ownership rates and school firearm incidents and injured/killed victims. Additionally, child access prevention, minimum age requirements for gun purchases, and mandatory gun safety training laws exhibited weak and inconsistent relationships with school firearm incidents. Future research may be needed to explore holistic approaches to addressing this problem.”
Data comparing annual death rates from mass public shootings in the U.S., Canada and European countries from 2009 to 2015, put our death rate per million people at only tenth with 0.089 deaths. Norway led with 1.888, France was third with 0.347, and Switzerland was seventh with 0.142. France’s deaths were mainly from machine guns, which were already outlawed there.
Recently, a fact-checker in the Austin American Statesman concluded, “A Facebook post claimed more people were killed by hands, fists and feet in 2020 than by rifles. FBI data does confirm that statistic. But the data source is limited, and that stat alone doesn’t tell the full story of the role firearms of all kinds play in homicides.”
The overwhelming portion of gun deaths are suicides (more than half) and murders by young men, especially in Democrat-controlled cities, with handguns, not “assault-style weapons”. Numerous experts have noted factors, such as mental illness and social alienation, as key in these murders, especially in mass shootings. Last month, the Wall Street Journal opined, “This cultural erosion will take years to repair, but a good start would be to admit that it plays a role in the increasing acts of insensate violence.”
The federal government banned “assault weapons” from 1995 to 2004, but the problems of defining them and enforcing the law caused a precipitous increase in their manufacture and sale during that decade, and since then. Conine’s initiative is aimed at the emotional gun haters who want to end all gun ownership, not sober people who want to fix the problem.
Ron Knecht is Senior Policy Fellow, at Nevada Policy Research Institute.