The Sunshine Economy: Using the Force of Finance After the Stoneman Douglas Shooting
If the call to boycott travel to Florida over gun control has any impact, this tweet is where it began.
Stoneman Douglas High Senior David Hogg is one the student leaders who have emerged out of the mass shooting tragedy to demand new gun control measures in Florida. He has called out companies that have relationships with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and called for a travel boycott of Florida. That last effort takes the gun debate right to one of the state’s most important industries.
It is among the strategies recognizing the force of finance.
Travel Boycott Call
Governor Rick Scott had been scheduled to come to Juno Beach on February 15 and release the latest Florida tourism data. Last year was probably another record year for the state. Through September, visits were up more than three percent, putting the year on pace to have the state host more than 112 million visitors.
But the day before the governor was set to announce the statistics a gunman brought an AR-15 to Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, opened fire and killed 17 people -- making it the worst mass high school shooting in America. The governor's office says the 2017 tourist data will be released soon, but there is no date scheduled.
Hogg and other student activist leaders from Stoneman Douglas have challenged entrenched public policy positions with deep-pocketed and well- connected supporters -- notably the NRA. They have turned the Florida Legislative session on a dime to focus on guns, mental health and school safety -- issues that barely registered if at all on the political agenda before the February 14 massacre. Now they dominate the discussion with one week left in the regular session in Tallahassee.
And with his travel boycott call, Hogg aims to use the state’s biggest industry as leverage.
"What I hope this boycott accomplished," he said, "is just reasonable gun legislation that makes sense on both sides of the aisle."
About one out of every six jobs in Florida is related to the tourism industry. Hotels, cruise lines, air travel, amusement parks -- all rely on out of state visitors. And Hogg realizes his boycott effort, while symbolic, also could cause financial pain for working Floridians. "To the people who depend on the tourist economy in Florida I say, 'I'm sorry.' These politicians can take simple actions to ensure that your business and your job survives."
Representatives from the tourist industry did not want to talk publicly with WLRN about the boycott effort. The state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida, said in a statement it continues to market the state "as a welcoming and safe world-class destination. The Sunshine State is always open for business."
Florida teachers and school staff members have a pension fund totaling $160 billion. About $1 out of every $100,000 is invested in one of four gun and ammunition makers the pension fund holds in its portfolio. Given the size of the overall pension plan, it isn't a lot of money.
It is money invested in the stock of American Outdoor Brands. It used to be called Smith and Wesson. The plan also holds financial positions in Sturm Ruger and Vista Outdoor. Vista is the company behind Camelbak water packs, Bell bicycle helmets and Bushnell binoculars. It also makes guns and ammunition.
Vista stock fell 61 percent last year. American Outdoor stock dropped 39 percent. Ruger gained six percent.
But stock price performance is not why the Florida Education Association wrote a letter to Governor Rick Scott after the Stoneman Douglas shooting. FEA President Joanne McCall said they wrote the letter to hope there are "other places" for the teachers pension money. Even though the money is invested for teachers and school staff in retirement, like most pension plans, they have no say over how the money is invested.
The FEA has not requested the plan sell its gun stocks, but if it did, two of the three would have been profitable investments. According to the plan's portfolio, as of the end of last year, the combined investment in all three was up $216-thousand dollars indicating at least some of the positions are long-term investments.