NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The horrific mass shooting at a public elementary school in Newton, Conn., in December thrust the thorny questions about runaway gun violence in America into the national spotlight. For investors, one of those questions is clear: what responsibility do we hold, if any, for the social ills caused by businesses in which we are stakeholders?The California State Teachers' Retirement System, known as CalSTRS, signaled its answer after the Newton shooting by voting to sell off its holdings in gun manufacturing companies. That appears to have prompted private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management to sell off its stake in the Freedom Group, a company that manufactures the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle that authorities say was one of the murder weapons used in Newton. AAPL) labor practices socially-responsible? What about its tax avoidance schemes?
What about the makers and sellers of junk foods? Or weapons of mass destruction? What about companies that cause environmental damage? If we buy into the science of global warming and all its implications, can we invest in companies related to the fossil fuel industry? What about the major financial institutions that required a federal bailout to avoid losses that would have wiped out the global financial system? Where does one draw the line? It's hard enough for the average investor -- or the professional asset manager, for that matter -- to make the right decisions when evaluating the prospects for a financial security to deliver healthy returns. We ought not to raise the bar of success even further out of reach by requiring them to evaluate the social value to society of their investments as well. SWHC) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. ( RGR), perhaps through a mutual fund held in their retirement account. Does that mean the people who form the majority in media polls showing support for more gun control are hypocrites? I think not. The correct venue for addressing these issues is through public policy, advocacy, the democratic process and civic action. If investors anticipate that changes to public policy or public attitudes are going to hamper the financial performance of a company, then of course they should adjust their investment strategy to reflect that. But giving up the fruits of an investment in good business because it engages in activities you disagree with politically or morally is generally not wise.
When it comes to their investments, people should vote their pocketbooks and save their conscience for the ballot box or the checkout line. We invest our hard-earned savings to maximize our wealth, and in the U.S. today, wealth is power and freedom. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that money is protected political speech under the Constitution, so if you have a social conscience, you'll be much more successful in furthering your agenda if you have more money with which to support your views. Follow @NatWorden This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.