Gun controllers have become increasingly frustrated that Americans have repeatedly rejected their gun confiscation agenda through their elected representatives. Rather than accept the will of the American people, they’re attempting to circumvent the legislative process and restrict gun rights by way of the private financial system. Their goal is to pressure financial services companies into either not doing business with the firearms industry and gun owners or to spy on their lawful activity. This should be chilling not just to law-abiding gun owners, but to anyone who cherishes their privacy.
On Dec. 24, 2018, The New York Times ran a thinly veiled advocacy piece by Andrew Ross Sorkin in the news section, titled, “Devastating Arsenals, Bought With Plastic and Nary a Red Flag.” The piece outlined how some of the perpetrators of high-profile mass murders had purchased firearms and ammunition in the same manner that many ordinary law-abiding Americans do—with credit cards.
The online edition of the piece carried the headline “How Banks Unwittingly Finance Mass Shootings,” suggesting that financial services companies were somehow complicit in violence by facilitating the exchange of lawful goods that were ultimately used for criminal purposes.
According to the misbranded op-ed, banks and other financial services companies are “uniquely positioned” to monitor gun owner purchasing habits. Under Sorkin’s preferred scenario, credit card companies would require retailers to tag firearm-related purchases with additional data that could be used by the credit card companies to compile information on gun owners. The surveillance data could then be used to flag suspicious purchases for law enforcement.
Moreover, the piece suggests that this data collection could be used to restrict certain types of lawful firearm transactions outright. Sorkin suggested, “Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods this year announced that they would not sell firearms to anyone under 21. If banks chose to use the systems they already have in place, they might decide to monitor such customers, perhaps preventing them from exercising their right to acquire a firearm.”
To their credit, when asked for comment by the Times’ advocate, the major financial transaction firms expressed a reluctance to violate the privacy of their law-abiding customers. A Visa spokesperson explained, “We do not believe Visa should be in the position of setting restrictions on the sale of lawful goods or services. … Asking Visa or other payment networks to arbitrate what legal goods can be purchased sets a dangerous precedent.” A Mastercard spokesperson added that the transaction company values the privacy of their customers’ “own purchasing decisions.”
These responses are promising, but don’t expect anti-gun extremists to relent with their pressure.
The Sorkin article is simply part of a wider ranging effort to attack firearm owners through the financial system. In April 2018, Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety expressed support for increased credit card company surveillance of firearm transactions. In fact, the anti-gun organization has developed “guidelines” for financial institutions doing business with the firearms industry. Under the guidelines, firearm manufacturers and retailers would be forced to adopt a host of gun control measures in order to do business with financial services providers.
The recent credit card proposals prompt important questions. Under what scenario would a gun owner’s purchases be flagged as “suspicious,” or be outright denied? Might the criteria be defined by anti-gun activists to include any volume of firearm-related goods they consider deviant? Gun owners routinely purchase large quantities of firearm products and ammunition for the same reason consumers buy anything in bulk—to save money.
Gun owners should also be aware that any increase in the information that financial services companies collect may wind up in the federal government’s hands. To that end, a June 2013 item in The Wall Street Journal reported that the National Security Agency was scooping up large quantities of data from credit card providers.
Even those who do not value our right to keep and bear arms but do cherish other civil liberties should be concerned with such credit card transaction proposals. In early 2018, when some of these ideas were first floated, Georgetown University Law Professor Adam Levitin pointed out, “There’s a privacy angle here. … There’s the slippery slope danger if it’s guns today ... and the day after it’s rightwing literature.”
New rules or surveillance procedures imposed by the credit card industry on firearm transactions would have a profound, negative effect on gun owners and the firearms industry, and pose a broader threat to all liberty-minded Americans.