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Pension's Investment In Gun Companies Concerns Former State Employee

By Stan Bush

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) - Colorado's public employee pension fund invests more than $1 million in companies that make guns and ammo used in the country's worst mass shootings and there are no plans to change that.

gun control rights debate generic
(credit: CBS)

The pension run by The Public Employees Retirement Association, commonly known as PERA, owns thousands of shares in four companies, according to public filings.

Here is what PERA invested in as of December 31, 2017:

- 2,717 shares in American Outdoor Brands (previously known as Smith & Wesson)
- 3,638 shares in Sturm, Ruger Co.
- 12,193 shares in Vista Outdoor
- 36,620 shares in Olin

Steve Cohen, who retired as principal at Englewood's Flood Middle School in 1999, says he only learned his retirement was partly funded by gun makers when Florida's teacher's union demanded firearm makers be removed from their pension fund.

"There is nobody who can feel good about that and be a public educator and watch these kids and watch what's happened in Florida or all over the country, you can't look at those and feel good," said Cohen.

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Steve Cohen (credit: CBS)

"They are in a state where Columbine goes down. We watch what happens. We watch the destruction. We watch the Aurora shooting. We watch Deer Creek. We watch any number of these things, and you would think as a Colorado institution they would have the common sense to go to their advisors to not put any money into things like this," said Cohen.

PERA's investment in gun makers goes back decades. At the time of the Columbine shooting, PERA owned 61,000 shares in Olin and 23,800 in Ruger. By the end of the year, PERA sold 100 shares in Olin but purchased almost 9,000 additional shares in Ruger.

Rep. Mike Coffman, the Republican who represents Colorado's 6th Congressional District and who was Colorado's treasurer at the time, released a statement Tuesday saying longstanding policy on PERA's Board of Trustees "was not to engage in 'social investing' and to let PERA investment officers make individual investment decisions."

Colorado PERA
(credit: CBS)

PERA says the fund never actively sought out weapons manufacturers, but mirrored other successful stock indexes.

In total, PERA owns roughly $1.3 million in the companies, a fraction so small in the $48 billion fund that one investor said it would look like "a rounding error" on a calculator.

"Did they really enjoy the value on.0003 percent of the portfolio over the image they project of owning those stocks?" said Cohen.

Colorado's current State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican running for governor, did not return calls for comment on the future of those stocks.

A PERA spokesperson says of their nearly 600,000 members only 12 have called for divestment in those funds.

The Board of Trustees meets in March, but the soonest they would even consider divesting those funds would be in June, if at all.

"It's taking the easy way out by saying only 12 have said so it must not be a big issue, where in your heart you know it's wrong," said Cohen.

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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