Having spent years casting large corporations as the enemies of all that is good and true, well-funded opponents of the Second Amendment have suddenly expressed a keen interest in recruiting those same corporations into their fight for stricter gun control.
To understand why this shift in approach has occurred—and to grasp why it is such a threat to the right to keep and bear arms—one first must understand that the last three decades have brought with them a renaissance in the right to keep and bear arms that has rendered the gun-control movement’s usual tactics somewhat moot.
Just over a decade ago, in Heller v. D.C. (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed what had been obvious since the ratification of the Second Amendment: That “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” means “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Concealed carry, which had become the preserve of a handful of people in a handful of more-permissive states, is now the norm almost everywhere in the United States. The 1994 ban on so-called “assault weapons” expired back in 2004; the waiting periods associated with the original Brady Bill were replaced with instant checks; and, over time, all manner of useless and inconvenient state laws have been repealed in their entirety thanks, in no small part, to the NRA. Over the same period, the number of privately owned firearms has more than doubled while the crime rate plummeted.
Better still, all these changes have been driven forward by the public, which, at almost every level of government, has become increasingly protective of both the Second Amendment and its many equivalents at the state level. Congress spent the early 1990s passing a string of restrictive gun-control measures, only to see many of the authors and enablers of those measures thrown out in the 1994 midterms.
When there is action in the states, it tends to be to expand, rather than to limit, the right to keep and bear arms. And, thanks the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, even the lower courts have been prevented from passing legislation by the back door. Taken together, these alterations have created a serious problem for a movement that, having believed for a while that it was on the verge of whittling away the right until it disappeared, has come slowly to realize that almost all the avenues it had hoped to use have been closed off.
And so, faced by this remarkable shift in the landscape, America’s gun-controllers have begun to look to another place in the hope of achieving their aims: corporate America.
The tactics on display are multifarious. In some cases, pressure is applied against wholly private actors, such as Salesforce or Dick’s Sporting Goods. In other cases, it is deployed against big financial players, such as Bank of America. Occasionally, it is imposed by politicized federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice. In all cases, though, the aim is the same: To achieve via cultural pressure what cannot be achieved in legislatures, at the ballot box or in the courts, and, thereby, to reduce the ability of the American citizenry to engage in activities that are not only legal, but also are explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution.
If the Second Amendment renaissance is to continue, the threat from corporate influence needs to be addressed.
Thus it is that, having established its product as the most-widely-used customer relationship management tool in the world, the tech firm Salesforce summarily announced in 2019 that its systems could no longer be used to list semi-automatic firearms for sale; therefore, a host of existing vendors had a simple choice between acquiescing to the policy or beginning the extremely costly process of moving elsewhere. This is how it is at a considerable number of the most-popular payment-processing outlets, including Stripe, Intuit, Square, PayPal and Venmo. These companies have flatly refused to process transactions involving firearms or ammunition (and even, in PayPal’s case, patches depicting firearms).
At the same time, financial giants, such as Bank of America and Citigroup, announced that they will no longer lend capital to businesses that manufacture, transport or sell commonly owned guns, such as the AR-15. And thus it is that, having seen this ball start to roll, some financial analysts, such as The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin, began arguing that, collectively, major corporations “have more leverage over the gun industry than any lawmaker,” and that they should use that leverage “to take a stand.”
And here’s the scary part: If taken to their logical conclusion, the tactics that Sorkin and others envision would do an enormous amount of damage to the citizenry’s ability to use their Second Amendment rights.
Left unchecked, the wholesale corporate rejection of the right to keep and bear arms would create a system within which guns could not be discussed on any of the major social-media platforms or web hosts; within which an array of vital commercial tools—from financing to raw materials to transportation—would be withheld from gun sellers and gun manufacturers; and within which the customers of America’s most-frequently used banks and credit-card companies would be prohibited from using their own money to purchase the most-commonly owned firearms in the country.
For now, this remains a “nightmare scenario.” But, as history clearly shows, the difference between a nightmare scenario coming true and a nightmare scenario being prevented is typically determined by the willingness of concerned citizens to show up. Like it or not, if the Second Amendment renaissance is to continue, the threat to the Second Amendment that is posed via corporate influence will need addressing in earnest.
How Can Gun Owners Push Back? How should gun owners respond?
Well, that depends entirely upon the details, for there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Our response to the purely private choices of purely private companies—such as, say, Dick’s Sporting Goods, which not only stopped selling AR-type rifles back in 2019, but destroyed $5 million worth of stock—could simply be to not shop there. Dick’s Sporting Goods has every right to make these decisions, and, in return, Americans have every right to go elsewhere for their goods.
If America’s corporations wish to involve themselves in politics, as Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Best Western, Hertz and others did when they severed ties with the NRA in 2018, that is their prerogative. But they should expect that other politically involved people will notice, and that they will make their own decisions in turn.
As for the credit-card-payment processors that refuse to do business with gun companies, happily, there are now many products on the market that cater explicitly to the firearms industry—including Tactical Payments, Blue Dog, Payment Cloud, Allied Payments and Rocket FFL. “Build your own system” has become something of a punchline of late, but in this case, it applies perfectly. If Square, Apple or PayPal won’t process your ammunition transaction, then someone who likes you will. Good!
By contrast, our response to the choices made by the big banks should be considerably less laissez-faire. It is one thing for a small private institution to set rules that prefer one set of customers over another, but it is quite another for a giant, government-backed organization to do so.
As part of his push, the Times’ Sorkin suggested that “banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo” should effectively “set new rules for the sales of guns in America.” Sorkin is wrong. It would be a disgrace for any institution that has been repeatedly bailed out with public money to pick and choose which legal businesses it will accommodate based upon the political preferences of its executives. Gun owners—and, indeed, gun sellers and gun manufacturers—were among those who helped save “banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo” when they were deemed so crucially important to the system (“too big to fail”) that they could not be permitted to go under.
In the long run, gun owners would do well to support efforts to make the issuance of bank charters or to support enrollment in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (which insures private deposits with public money) contingent on banks’ willingness to do business with all recognized legal industries without fear or favor.
How About Government Agencies? As for gun owners’ response to the government attempting to bully private organizations into doing its political will—as was done by the Obama administration with Operation Choke Point—the response should be an emphatic “hell, no!”
For those who don’t remember, Operation Choke Point was a Department of Justice program that sought to discourage private companies from facilitating legal transactions of which the Obama administration happened to disapprove. It was not the “free market at work.” It was not “government regulation.” It was not a “mistake.” It was government coercion of the worst possible kind. As Frank Keating of the American Bankers Association noted, the Department of Justice was routinely “asking banks to identify customers” who were “simply doing something government officials don’t like”—namely, selling guns—and then cutting off “those customers’ access to financial services” without any legal justification whatsoever. That President Obama sought to undermine our unalienable rights is a scandal in and of itself. But that he sought to do this in secret, by putting pressure on private companies, is nearly beyond belief.
And yet, as I write, the Biden administration is doing something similar—this time, by discouraging banks from lending to the coal industry. In Congress, a Democrat representative from Virginia is attempting to force banks and credit-card companies to share their customers’ private transaction information with the federal government if those companies believe that the information might show “suspicious activity.” And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has issued an executive order demanding a trove of information from any bank that does business with a gun manufacturer or dealer.
Alarmed by precisely this sort of activist-led pressure, several states have moved to pass laws that prohibit the extension of government contracts to companies that discriminate against the firearms industry. These rules are welcome, but they might be even more effective if they held, instead, that the state will decline to do business with any company that discriminates against the providers of any legal product.
Recently, the city of Los Angeles was reprimanded in court for demanding that any contractor who wishes to do business with the city must disclose its ties to the National Rifle Association. There is clearly a considerable moral difference between a law that seeks to punish contractors for their political relationships and a law that seeks to prohibit such punishment. And yet, practically, and tactically, a content-neutral rule that had contained exceptions only for religious liberty would be more likely both to survive in the courts and to remain intact when control of the government changes hands.
Whatever they choose to do, it will be important for advocates of the Second Amendment to remember that, while the gun-control movement may have changed its approach, our remedy is the same: To use the many different sorts of power that we have at our disposal.
Economically, we have the power to patronize and invest in businesses that share our values. Entrepreneurially, we have the power to build companies that can serve firearms-related industry. Politically, we have the power to prevent government entities from pressuring certain companies to change their behavior. And, on top of it all, we have our voices, which we can use to say that most-useful of all words: “No.”