Pro/Con -- Are banks wrong to refuse service to gun manufacturers? Yes: Bank policies circumvent Constitution, federal laws
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle warned of the dangers of oligarchy: the rule of the few. In America today, a new oligarchy, independent of any democratic control, has arisen. It seeks to install its ideology through economic coercion, outside of any legal process.
Some of the world's most powerful banks have set themselves up as an unelected legislature. They impose their decrees with no relation to the laws passed by Congress and the states.
A blatant example is the attempt to ban legal guns by cutting off banking services to the firearms industry. Frustrated that democratically elected legislatures have rejected the demands of their favored interest groups, certain banks have decreed they will no longer do business with firearm manufacturers and dealers or allow others to do so.
The policy of financial intimidation was instigated by the administration of President Barack Obama, frustrated that Congress wouldn't further criminalize gun ownership. Known as Operation Choke Point, the Department of Justice-led effort pressured banks not to do business with gun retailers. That ended with President Donald Trump's election.
Then came the Parkland school shooting: 17 students murdered, due largely to the inaction of government at every level. The FBI did nothing after being advised of the planned attack. The sheriff failed to act on the perpetrator's clear threats. A deputy stood idle outside the school.
Yet, when the smoke cleared, blamed were law-abiding gun owners, the National Rifle Association, and even the Second Amendment constitutional right to keep and bear arms, which needed to be repealed, critics claimed. Congress also was blamed because it hadn't legislated a gun-free world where everyone was nice.
Into the gap stepped the financial oligarchy. Citibank made the first move in March. Lamenting that "our nation" has not adopted "common-sense measures" on firearms, the bank announced it would require its retail-sector clients to adhere to certain policies. No firearm could be sold to anyone under 21, even though the law allows 18-year-olds to buy rifles and shotguns. No undefined "high-capacity" magazines could be sold, even though most states recognize no such restriction. Other demands followed the anti-gun playbook.
Bank of America upped the ante, announcing it would refuse financial services to manufacturers that make "military-style" firearms for civilian use. But that term is meaningless. Military rifles shoot automatically as long as the trigger is pulled. Civilian firearms require a separate trigger pull for each shot.
While other financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase have fallen into line to deny banking services to the gun industry, many have not. Wells Fargo announced it would not get involved in political posturing and would do business with lawful companies.
New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo would like to change such neutrality by blackmail. His administration sent "guidance letters" to banks and insurance companies advising against "dealings with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations." It imposed millions of dollars in fines on two firms and banned the sale of insurance products endorsed by the NRA. Receiving back-channel threats, financial and insurance providers canceled business relationships with the NRA.
The NRA has sued Cuomo for violating its First Amendment rights and using state agencies to interfere with lawful business relations.
The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Cuomo's policies "would set a dangerous precedent for advocacy groups across the political spectrum."
Aristotle warned that tyranny derives from an oligarch's "mistrust of the people; hence they deprive them of arms." Methods change, but basic principles don't.
Stephen Halbrook is a senior fellow with the Independent Institute (independent.org), a think tank in Oakland, Calif. He also is the author of "The Founders' Second Amendment" and "Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France."