Opinion Columns & Blogs

Big banks should stay out of gun-control battles

Gun-control debates rage on in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre, with assault rifles naturally facing the vast bulk of the scrutiny and opposition. The stakes have never been higher for Second Amendment advocates – at least as far as assault-style weapons are concerned – as the pressure to ban or greatly limit their distribution seems to intensify with each new tragedy.

Now, some of the nation’s largest banks are jumping into the fray by announcing that they will no longer help finance the manufacture of these weapons. Bank of America – the second-largest bank in the U.S. in both total assets and market cap – announced last week that it will stop providing loans to gun makers who produce military-style firearms intended for civilian use. The bank’s vice chairman, Anne Finucane, cited an ongoing interest in reducing gun violence as the impetus behind the move, declaring, “It’s our intention not to finance these military-style firearms for civilian use.”

For gun-control advocates, this must sound like great news: Powerful banks are putting the financial squeeze on manufacturers of assault weapons, supposedly making it more difficult for them to produce these instruments of mass fatality and release them into the stream of commerce. What could be the downside?

Let’s think this through. Are we sure we want big banks integrating gun-control policy into their lending practices? Can we really trust that this is going to turn out well? Aren’t the true motivations of these powerful banks – which are publicly traded and have trillion-dollar asset portfolios – sometimes difficult to discern? On a somewhat related note, what did Bank of America do with that $45 billion in bailout money again?

If Bank of America’s intent is to halt the distribution of assault weapons, is the bank also willing to stop doing business with the retailers that place these firearms directly into the hands of civilians? Finucane’s answer: “That’s a good public dialogue, but that’s a ways off.”

There we have it. Bank of America is willing to take a stand on gun violence by terminating a handful of deals with weapons manufacturers – a tiny fraction of its lending operation, but it’s not quite ready to cut into a substantial share of its business by severing ties with retailers.

Surely these jilted gun manufacturers will have no problem obtaining loans from different banks, which means that Bank of America’s policy stance will ultimately do nothing to curb the manufacture and distribution of assault weapons. Forget the downside for a moment – what is the discernible upside?

Bank executives may believe this is a good public relations move, but consequentialists might beg to differ. Not only are these banks alienating Second Amendment-touting customers and stockholders, they are also setting bad precedent for the future. Will they now be expected to sever business ties with other controversial businesses? Or should they only do so when it’s really a non-sacrifice on their part, as it is here?

Instinctively, this all just seems like a bad idea. Big banks should concern themselves with financial wins and losses only, and bow out gracefully when it comes to matters of policy, health and public safety. There are enough cooks in the kitchen already.

Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.