With just over six weeks to go until the midterm elections, GOP officials are seizing on gun store sales data collection as an example of what they call “woke capitalism,” opening a new front in the struggle over the role that business should play in driving social policy.
“Progressives are already rejoicing that this will be a huge step forward in policing suspicious arms purchases,” the rep said. Roger Williams (R-Texas) said during a House hearing on Wednesday. “Anyone who is against the rights of gun owners will want [financial] institutions to report every firearm transaction [code] to law enforcement. »
State officials are also involved.
Environmental, social and governance – or ESG – policies have “been weaponized in a way that I’m very concerned about,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican seeking re-election. Patronis earlier this week threatened spectrum credit card companies with GOP-led legislation targeting their operations if the code is determined to have a “chilling effect” on gun purchases.
“I see it going as far as we have to take it. [Even] whether we have to take down the platform of a financial institution doing business in the state of Florida because of its harm or the irreparable harm it is causing to some of those companies,” he said in a statement. interview.
Earlier this month, Amalgamated Bank – a union-owned institution that has become a go-to bank for Democratic campaigns – successfully petitioned an international standards body to adopt the new merchant code for gun shops fire. Credit card companies resisted these efforts for years, but after the International Organization for Standardization approved it, the companies said they had to comply.
Leaders of both parties have become increasingly aggressive in using their power – and their financial resources – to persuade companies to adopt practices consistent with their respective ideologies. These are often in conflict.
For every blue state pension fund that moves forward with climate-conscious investment initiatives, Republican leaders in states like West Virginia will end public contracts with big banks that no longer fund climate change. coal.
Credit card companies and commercial banks are now caught in the middle of a similar dynamic when it comes to gun store purchases. Companies are not happy about it.
“We don’t believe private companies should serve as moral arbiters,” Visa said in a blog post published in response to the ISO ruling. “A fundamental principle for Visa is to protect all lawful commerce on our network and around the world and to respect the privacy of cardholders who choose to use Visa. This has always been our commitment and it will not change with the ISO decision.
American Express and Mastercard made similar remarks. Hundreds of other types of retailers, including florists and mobile home dealers, already have their own dedicated codes.
But the code only gives financial institutions a snapshot of where a purchase was made, not what items were purchased. This will not prevent legal gun purchases, nor will it be the sole reason behind blocking any individual transaction.
The code will provide financial institutions with a new tool to identify suspicious transactions made by consumers at gun stores since merchant categories appear on shoppers’ credit card statements.
The CEOs of America’s largest commercial banks, which ultimately handle those payments, echoed the credit card companies’ arguments during congressional hearings on Wednesday and Thursday.
“We cannot be involved in telling American citizens how their money will be used. It’s not our job,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.
Republican policymakers say the new code has politicized payment systems to the detriment of gun owners.
Two dozen Republican state attorneys general have already threatened card companies with legal action over the new code. GOP lawmakers from the House Financial Services and Senate Banking Committees sent letters this week to Amalgamated Bank, the Treasury Department and the Bank Policy Institute — a lobby group for big lenders — also signaling their dissatisfaction.
“Please resist the urge to respond to the very loud noise in your left ears,” the senator said. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) told the banks’ CEOs during Thursday’s hearing. “I am happy to be the loud noise in your right ears.”
For Democrats and advocates lobbying for gun regulations, these protests ignore an epidemic of gun violence that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. That’s why public pension executives in New York and California launched shareholder proposals earlier this year to force credit conglomerates to back proposals to create a separate category for in-store transactions. of weapons.
“There has been a merchant code for florists for a long time, but I don’t see the Republican attorneys general opposing it. [to that]said New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, a Democrat who oversees the city’s retirement system, in an interview earlier this week. “I guess they don’t get big contributions from florists.”
Having this code will create new ways for financial institutions to track suspicious activity — something they are already obligated to do — and could thwart domestic terrorism and mass shootings, said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and politics at Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded and funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Efforts to implement the code took root after a series of New York Times reports revealed that the attackers behind the Virginia Tech and Pulse Nightclub attacks, among others, used credit cards to raise money. large stockpiles of arms and ammunition leading to these mass attacks. shootings.
“It’s not just a matter for policymakers and lawmakers to engage,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director at Giffords Law Center for gun violence prevention. “Business leaders, like everyone else, have a role to play.”
That line of thinking leaves out federal and state policymakers who are ultimately held accountable by voters, said Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a state Supreme Court official who led the attorneys general’s letter. of the GOP.
“My concern is that if boardrooms get more involved in politics, then politics is going to get more involved in boardrooms,” Skrmetti said. “We’re going in a direction where everything becomes political – and that’s bad.”