And The Children Shall Lead Us

We here at Topel & DiStasi Wealth management have always made a concerted effort to avoid political discourse with our clients. The reason for that is mostly because we believe it generally doesn’t add any value to our primary mission here of helping our clients achieve their life goals and financial ambitions. But there are times when you have to stand up and say enough is enough, particularly if you have a platform, as we do. Because sometimes you just have to say: “This is what we stand for”, and let history judge if you were on the right side or not.

On Valentine’s Day the world once again watched in horror as the events of yet another mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida unfolded, and now we are embroiled, once again, in a debate over the current state of gun laws in America. For those of us who believe strongly in common sense gun control, the inevitable despair that sets in after each one of these events, again took hold, as we realized that no matter how terrible the images and realities of what occurred in that school, nothing was likely to change in the laws of our land.

Why? Because despite overwhelming support for stricter gun laws in America, the gun lobby has so successfully stifled any attempts to make substantive change, and convinced the powers that be, through a coordinated campaign of clever talking points, and massive campaign funding, that any reforms are a non-starter. In addition, they have so thoroughly brainwashed the small, yet incredibly passionate, minority of those who staunchly believe in the literal interpretation of the Second Amendment, that the mere mention of gun control is a step towards taking all their guns away.

And so, as we watched this latest mass murder take place, we assumed the same narrative would play out. People would be outraged and the liberal democrats would call for stricter gun control, while those in control offered thoughts and prayers, until the uproar died down and some other story captured our fancy, and the moment was forgotten. But then something strange happened. A group of students who survived the attack, despite being grief stricken, and likely still in shock, immediately took to the media to call for reforms, and to demand action where normally none is taken. The pure realness of their words was so compelling, and the forcefulness of their message so stirring, that they soon took complete control of the narrative in the aftermath of the shooting, which is usually dominated by the smooth talking points of the NRA and its minions. I also think that their understanding of social media, enabled them to leverage those platforms in a way that even the most polished media professionals never could, and their message went viral instantly.

Now I don’t know if this will result in any major changes in the long run, and if this is the start of a real movement, or if it will get drowned out and forgotten like all the rest. But the sheer eloquence and forcefulness of these kids’ message, must have the gun-rights advocates quite nervous. In fact, you can already see the impact, as they clearly haven’t figured out how to attack these kids and discredit them, as they would if it were adults threatening their massive profits, or ‘way of life’, as they like to put it. And even some of the politicians, from our president, to the governor of Florida, are feigning interest in reform, though the proposals they are floating are incremental at best, and likely won’t get done at all, once all the noise dies down a bit. In fact, the real coup by the NRA and its cronies, will come when they have convinced everyone that arming teachers is the best answer. More guns to fight the gun problem; isn’t that convenient.

Now, since they can’t discredit a bunch of kids who just survived an unthinkable ordeal, it seems they’ve already found their scapegoat in the deputy who was supposed to be guarding the school, but didn’t rush in and face the shooter who was much better armed. He’s being called a coward, and it seems clear that he did fail in his duty, but the real takeaway here is that if a trained guard isn’t going to stop a massacre of this nature, what’s the likelihood of a 9th grade English teacher managing to stare down a deranged killer, armed with a military-style assault rifle? Moreover, with all that teachers are tasked with doing in America today, why on earth should they have to? This line of thinking, to me, is just madness.

Ever since hearing these kids take Marco Rubio to task at the CNN town hall event a few days ago (which was absolutely brilliant, by the way), I’ve been thinking: what can I do? Since I live in Northern California, all of our elected officials are already the ones trying to get some kind of gun control legislation passed, so it’s not as if we can ‘vote them out’.

Then I remembered a phone call I got from a client after one of the previous mass shootings, asking if I could figure out a way to weed out any gun stocks from their portfolio. I ran some screens and did some research, and was able to build a portfolio that closely matched theirs, but eliminated almost all stocks affiliated with guns and gun manufacture (and a lot of other objectionable businesses, to be sure). We have long been proponents of socially responsible investing (SRI) here at TDWM, but there have, in the past, been some barriers to effectively building these kinds of portfolios. Costs tend to be higher, and returns have traditionally, not been quite as robust – guns, it seems, are good business. But as the years have gone on, things have changed a bit, and I believe they will continue to improve for those interested in investing in a more socially impactful way. First, costs have come down, particularly as more SRI ETFs have come on the market. Also, returns have been much more competitive in recent years, and it is my belief, that the trend will continue, as the benefits of some of the more socially positive industries and technologies, prove to also be good business.

I have been horrified by mass shootings in the past, but something about hearing these young people talk about going through it just hit me. I’ve got two kids in Junior High School, and it felt as if it was time to do something – to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. So, wherever possible, I have re-allocated all of mine and Tracy’s personal investments into the socially responsible, gun-free, portfolio I built for my recent clients. I doubt if the gun and ammo manufacturers are quaking in their boots, as Tracy and I aren’t exactly Bill and Melinda Gates, but it felt like something we needed to do, and if more and more people continue to do likewise, I truly believe it can eventually have an impact.

I have no intention of preaching to my clients, or trying to convince them to invest the way I have, as each person needs to decide for themselves how they want to positively impact our world, and ultimately what is best for them and their families. However, we will certainly be putting even more effort into the research and construction of socially responsible portfolios as we go forward.

The tittle of this article, which I basically borrowed from the line in the Old Testament, “and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:16) doesn’t really refer to a child leading adults, as it is often used. But rather, it speaks of the Day of the Lord, when a child will be able to lead a wolf, or a lion or a cobra around, without fear, since God will have removed the curse of sin from the earth. Perhaps that’s even more appropriate, as we look forward to a world where our children can once again go to school without fear of being shot, since the curse of military assault weapons has been removed.