Gun Violence and Investing
JLens' position on gun violence and investing is influenced by Jewish tradition which generally views weapons unfavorably, seeing them as unsavory tools to be used only as a last resort.
One of the foundational texts about weapons comes from the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 2:4), who declared that in the ideal world: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against another nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.” An early example of the rabbinic approach to weapons comes from a discussion about whether to allow weapons to be carried as accessories on Shabbat. The Sages prohibited this and declared weapons to be “nothing other than reprehensible.” (Mishnah Shabbat 6:4; BT Shabbat 63a)
The rabbis lived at a time of societal violence toward Jews, and they prohibited the sale of arms to non-Jews as well as to Jewish bandits. (M. Avodah Zarah 1:7; BT Avodah Zarah 15-16). This prohibition was understood from two perspectives: as a way to protect the Jewish community from violence, and as a general concern “not to put a stumbling block before the blind” by eliminating the potential of providing people with tools that can harm society. (Rambam, Laws of Murder and Saving a Life 12:12-14).
On the other hand, selling weapons to Jewish militias or to governments that worked to protect Jews and other citizens was permitted. (Id. at 12:13). In addition, the rabbis permitted weapons in situations of self-defense, where Jewish law allows proportional violence. (BT Rosh Hashanah 22a; Rambam, Laws of Murder and Saving a Life 1:6). Indeed, saving a life from danger can even be a mitzvah.
Another difference between Jewish legal scholarship and United States law is that Judaism does not recognize an inherent “right to bear arms.” Instead, Jewish law recognizes obligations: our individual obligations to protect ourselves and our community as well as our obligation to prevent and minimize potential harm to society.
JLens Investment and Advocacy Policy on Firearms
While JLens’ Jewish Advocacy Strategy does not currently invest in civilian firearms manufacturers, JLens does invest in consumer goods companies that sell firearms, amongst other items, at a retail level. JLens uses this investment as a platform to enable advocacy with these companies to reduce gun violence and foster safer communities.
JLens also invests in companies that provide military firearms based on the principles of self-defense described above.
After the tragic school shooting in Sandy Hook, CT, the Sandy Hook Principles were developed to enable advocacy by public pensions and other asset owners with companies involved in the manufacture and sale of firearms. JLens affirms these principles, including universal background checks, as an ideal standard of corporate behavior around gun violence.
JLens supports recent efforts taken by some retailers, such as Dicks Sporting Goods and Walmart, to add reasonable restraints on the sale and use of firearms. JLens also supports banks using their financial leverage to foster sensible reforms, including Citibank’s recent decision to only do business with retailers who place restrictions on the sale of guns to anyone under the age of 21, to stop selling bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, and to perform background checks. JLens recently endorsed investor letters sent to American Express and Wells Fargo regarding their credit merchant activities with gun retailers to ensure that investor capital is not at unnecessary risk.
Guided by Jewish wisdom, JLens will continue to use our power as investors to advocate for common sense reforms that have widespread public approval and the potential to dramatically enhance public safety and effectuate the sacred duty of pikuah nefesh (saving lives).