The Guns of Villaraigosa

Just because you might be expecting something doesn’t mean you can’t be disappointed when it happens.

Following December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we have witnessed the spectacle of politicians at every level of government tripping over each other to race before the cameras and proclaim their outrage, not at the perpetrator of the atrocity, but rather at the many law-abiding Americans who are employed in the making of firearms and the many, many more who use them recreationally.  Something must be done, they tell us, “for the children.”  That the “something” might be wholly ineffectual or even counterproductive in the fight against crime is of little significance when the real goal is to see one’s name in the headlines and one’s face on television.

To the surprise of no one who has followed the man’s career, joining President Obama, Vice President Biden, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and so many others in this farcical display is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a lifelong politician who, facing the end of his term in office, seeks to hold aloft his profile — and his prospects for some future position at the public trough — by means of the type of shameless pandering for which he is well known.  Mr. Villaraigosa has called on the managers for the city’s three pension funds to divest from any holdings in companies that manufacture so-called assault weapons.  “It’s a moral and financial imperative to end our relationship with these companies,” said Mr.Villaraigosa, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, whose story added that it was unclear how much city pension money was invested in companies that make firearms.  “I don’t want to make a quarter, not a penny, not a dime off of companies that make those weapons of war,” he said.

Put aside for the moment the fact that “assault weapon” is a term devoid of meaning other than to describe rifles whose appearance is in some quarters considered sinister.  There is a further, even deeper incongruity in the mayor’s demand.  The city of Los Angeles, more specifically its police department, is a customer for some of the very companies whose products he finds so distasteful.  In the LAPD arsenal are weapons from Glock, Colt, Beretta, and Heckler & Koch, among others.  And thank heavens for them, for among the department’s 10,000 officers are those who have defended their own and others’ lives with just these weapons.

The above named manufacturers are privately held, so the mayor’s investment advice will have little impact on them and most other firearms companies.  But one major gun manufacturer represented in the LAPD’s inventory, Smith & Wesson, is publicly traded, with a price as of this writing of $8.83 per share on the NASDAQ.  This is well above its 52-week low of $4.93, indicating it might be worthy of inclusion in any pension fund’s portfolio.  And consider: If all of Smith & Wesson’s investors joined in Mr. Villaraigosa’s exercise in moral posturing, the company might cease to exist, thereby depriving the LAPD and most other police departments in the country of some essential tools of the trade.  And this is to say nothing of the millions of other Americans who use Smith & Wesson guns for recreation and self-defense.

And though the term “assault weapon” has no intrinsic meaning, the other term invoked by the mayor, “weapons of war,” does conjure up an ominous image.  The only problem for the mayor is that the weapons he refers to are not designed “for war,” but rather for hunting, target practice, and, most importantly, constitutionally protected self-defense.  That Mr. Villaraigosa would discourage city pension funds from being invested in companies that make products intended for use that is explicitly encouraged in the Constitution says more about him than it does about the companies themselves.

But then, Mr. Villaraigosa is not a man known for his keen intellect or his grasp of legal nuance.  Though he attended law school, he failed in four attempts to pass the California bar exam before forsaking a career in the law in favor of a less intellectually demanding life in politics, for which, happily for him, there is no qualifying examination.  And if the mayor happens to be of modest wattage between the ears, it is a deficiency that scarcely distinguishes him from most members of the city council, for whom empty gestures like the mayor’s investment recommendation have come to be routine.

And it is a routine that is often not only devoid of substance or meaningful consequence but sometimes comically inept.  Witness the orgy of self-congratulatory preening that occurred at L.A. City Hall when, in 2010, the city council voted to boycott the state of Arizona over its passage of SB 1070, the controversial state law on illegal immigration.  Council members compared Arizona to Nazi Germany before voting 13-1 in favor of the boycott.  Despite the council’s actions, last year the LAPD’s SWAT team was somehow allowed to purchase sniper rifles from McMillan Firearms Manufacturing, located in Phoenix.  As part of the purchase price, McMillan offers two days of training on its ranges and with its gunsmiths so as to allow police officers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the rifles.  Such a training session would have cost the city of L.A. nothing but the price of gas, food, and lodging for four officers to travel to Phoenix.  Permission was denied, allowing those who voted against it to cloak themselves in the cheap grace of this empty — and empty-headed — gesture.

Surely the city council will just as cravenly endorse the mayor’s call for divestment from gun makers, and they will all congratulate each other for their courageous stand against the NRA and the nefarious “gun lobby.”  But in the end, as is the case with most of the effluence from City Hall, it won’t save any lives, it won’t stop any crimes, it won’t matter one bit.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified image originally photographed by s_bukley /