May 07, 2018

Weekly Column: Protecting Our Second Amendment Rights

In recent weeks, several financial services firms have issued new guidelines that could effectively cut off financial services to law-abiding firearm manufacturers, retailers and firearms purchasers if they do not comply with the bank’s firearms preferences.  This raises serious concerns about large financial institutions—that receive significant forms of government support and benefits—using their market power to manage social policy by withholding access to credit from customers and companies they disfavor.

Some are encouraging banks to track and monitor individual credit and debit transactions with respect to firearms.  The collection of personally identifiable information (PII) by both the government and private companies is something that has long troubled me.  The use of Americans’ information to monitor and deny financial services to those engaged in completely legal (and, in this case, constitutionally-protected) conduct is incredibly concerning.

As Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, I contacted those that have issued these troubling directives and sought answers to questions about the collection of personally identifiable information, and how the information is used and protected.  Americans have a legitimate interest in protecting their personal privacy against both government and private sector abuse.  Congress must get a better understanding of the collection and protection of personal information, and this issue will be a major focus of ongoing Senate Banking Committee oversight efforts.    

During the Obama Administration, I fought against “Operation Choke Point,” an initiative in which federal agencies devised and relied upon a list of politically disfavored merchant categories with the intent of “choking-off” these merchants’ access to payment systems and banking services.  Operation Choke Point was deeply concerning because law-abiding businesses were targeted strictly for operating in an industry that some in the government disfavored.  Under fear of retribution, many banks stopped providing financial services to members of these lawful industries for no reason other than political pressure, which took the guise of regulatory and enforcement scrutiny.

The U.S. Department of Justice has admitted that Operation Choke Point was inappropriate and claims that it has been terminated.  Now, the Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services is warning banks and insurers against doing business with the firearm industry and the National Rifle Association.  This raises concerns that the State of New York is trying to implement its own version of Operation Choke Point.

Like government agencies using their power to try to cut off financial services for lawful businesses they may disfavor, large national banks using their market power for similar purposes undermines American liberties.  Some have rightfully questioned where cutting off certain services stops, and what legal transactions might be deemed “objectionable” in the future.  We should all be concerned if banks and other companies seek to replace legislators and policymakers and attempt to manage social policy by limiting access to credit.  We must protect and preserve our Second Amendment right to bear arms.


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