To some of its advocates, the cause of gun control is precious enough to be worth jettisoning not just the rights protected by the Second Amendment but many other individual liberties, including – as recent New York controversies suggest – First Amendment rights of speech and association and Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure. Now, if a New York Times article is any indication, comes the turn of financial privacy.
In an advocacy piece imperfectly dressed up as a news story, New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin observes that some perpetrators of mass public shootings have bought guns and ammo using credit cards, and asks why credit card companies and banks should not be made to stop this. How? Well, they could “create systems to track gun purchases that would allow them to report suspicious patterns” and “prevent [customers] from buying multiple guns in a short period of time.” Invoking the Patriot Act – you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – the piece goes on to ask why the sweeping financial-snooping powers bestowed on the feds by that act should not be deployed against everyday civilians who purchase more guns than would seem fit for them to buy.
The piece notes with apparent approval that “several payment systems — including PayPal, Square and Apple Pay — already [have] established rules that ban the sale of guns and gun-related items using their systems” but says no banks have done so. (Following an earlier Sorkin report, Bank of America and Citibank announced that they would discontinue relationships with gun companies – all part of the burgeoning movement that has been called financial no-platforming, in which payments providers like Patreon and PayPal, following pressure groups’ demands, refuse to serve lawful but disapproved clients and causes.)
While credit card companies have developed sophisticated real-time measures to prevent fraud, Sorkin notes, they have shown little interest in preventing customers from purchasing lawful products or reporting them to law enforcers for doing so. I feel I can speak confidently for millions of customers in saying that’s exactly how I would like them to handle things.
Sorkin’s report leans heavily on such sources as Kevin Sullivan, “a former New York Police fraud investigator who consults with banks as president of the Anti-Money Laundering Training Academy” – not exactly what I would deem a disinterested source, since the higher the stack of suspicious activity reports mounts toward the skies, the more business for him.
The piece mentions one reason gun dealers are reluctant to pass on to banks information about what products their customers buy: someone else might come into possession of the list and know to pitch guns to those names. It doesn’t spell out nearly as clearly what might seem a bigger fear about a who-bought-guns data file, namely that it would go a long way toward identifying owners once confiscation of existing weaponry gets on the table as a proposal. The ACLU may not care about gun rights, but as Sorkin concedes, one of its policy analysts gets to much the same point by a different route: “The implication of expecting the government to detect and prevent every mass shooting is believing the government should play an enormously intrusive role in American life.”
David French at National Review has gone deeper into the problems with the proposal, and rather than duplicate his points I will instead close by adding one more. Besides working directly on the willingness of some big companies to bend to progressive opinion, and inspiring new laws and regulations, there is a third mechanism: trial lawyers, who already sue multiple parties after mass shooting events, might pursue legal claims against credit card providers for facilitating the atrocities. Through the magic of confidential litigation settlement, image-sensitive big companies might then make big policy concessions to get out from under the resulting litigation risk and bad publicity – without anyone having had to enact a new law or regulation.
Arm-twisting payments handlers into monitoring and reporting on private citizens’ gun purchases? The time to say no is now.