This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Everence, Mennonite Education Agency join call to address gun violence

Everence/Praxis Mutual Funds and Mennonite Education Agency joined a group of 142 institutional investors, collectively representing $634 billion in assets, in issuing a statement March 29 calling for meaningful corporate action to address gun violence in the United States. The statement came in light of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, and 17 more were wounded.

Everence, a faith-based financial services organization, and its mutual fund family, Praxis Mutual Funds, together were one of seven contributors to the statement. Mennonite Education Agency, which signed the statement, provides resources, programing and support to Mennonite schools.

The statement says the 142 institutional investors are responding to the use of semiautomatic assault weapons in mass shootings and other forms of gun violence in the United States by “calling on gun manufacturers, retailers and distributors, as well as companies with financial ties to these industries, to review their operations, supply chains and policies and take meaningful action on this public safety concern.”

“The racial justice implications of gun violence are especially pronounced as black men are 13 times more likely than white men to be shot and killed with guns,” the statement says.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility – whose 300 member organizations comprise faith communities, socially responsible asset managers, unions, pensions, nonprofits and other socially responsible investors with combined assets of over $400 billion – distributed the statement.

Everence and Praxis Mutual Funds conduct most of their shareholder advocacy through ICCR. Mennonite Education Agency’s Investment Committee, which follows Everence’s stewardship investing core values, is an associate member of ICCR.

Mark Regier, vice president of stewardship investing at Everence and director of sales for Praxis Mutual Funds, said in an April 2 email that the effort is meant to “contribute to and extend the reach of the youth/public response to the Parkland tragedy,” which occurred Feb. 14.

“As an investor representative of a pacifist faith tradition, we have few opportunities to engage directly in conversations related to the weapons crisis in our country,” Regier said. “We believe it is important that we contribute what we can to this national (and international) conversation.”

Everence and Praxis Mutual Funds do not invest in weapons or firearms manufacturers, Regier said, though they do manage portfolios that include gun retailers, financiers and other corporate partners.

For this reason, Regier hopes the effort by the 142 institutional investors helps move conversation and action “beyond weapons manufacturers to focus on the culture of gun violence.”

Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency, echoed Regier’s sentiment.

“We chose to sign as a reflection of our values and intend to be part of a national dialogue with the hope to bring about change in the gun violence culture,” Romero said in an April 3 email. “We hope the statement provides a setting for serious discussions on how we make this world a better place in which our values of peace and our desires to end violence become center to the national conversations. Our long history as a peace church provides the setting for us to push this conversation forward.”

The statement lists several measures companies can adopt that are designed to reduce the risk of gun violence. Many of the measures are taken or adapted from the Sandy Hook Principles.

“As shareholders concerned about the social impacts of our investments, we believe it is incumbent on all corporate actors to use their power and influence to contribute to the well-being of the communities where they operate and, more broadly, to society as a whole,” the statement says. “The dangers presented by gun violence threaten the lives of our children, our communities and the very fabric of our society. In the coming months we will be engaging with companies we own to urge immediate and positive action that addresses gun violence.”

The statement says Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart no longer sell assault weapons, and along with L.L. Bean they now prohibit sales of guns to anyone under 21; Kroger has exited the firearms business entirely, the statement says; and Citigroup imposed new restrictions on lending to retail clients involved in the gun business. The statement also noted actions taken by car rental companies, hotels and airlines.

Firearms for hunting or sport have ceased to be the primary focus of gun manufacturing and weapons lobbying in the United States, Regier said, and Mennonites have a role to play.

“If we are serious about creating a world at peace and free from violence…then this requires more than avoidance,” he said.

Romero said the conversation and action regarding gun violence is about more than just guns.

“We hope it is a conversation about creating a culture that values human dignity and is committed to bringing about reconciliation in a world in which violence abounds,” he said. “This is a concrete step in living out our faith.”

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