Gun sellers who have online transactions are being denied access to the banking system and credit card processing by the FDIC and the US Justice Department, according to the The Washington Times, which is alleging that banks are being pressured to close some gun retailers’ accounts.
“Unfortunately your company’s line of business is not commensurate with the industries we work with,” an email from BankUnited N.A. to Top Gun Firearms Training & Supply in Miami stated. Top Gun’s owner, T.R. Liberti, received the email after the bank started declining transactions from his online retail business.
Thousands of gun-related businesses around the country are facing a similar situation, The Times reported. Accounts are being closed and credit card transactions declined because gun retailers have been labeled a “high-risk” business for credit card fraud by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Gun retailers are also being targeted by a Justice Department investigation called Operation Choke Point.
“This is an attempt by the federal government to keep people from buying guns and a way for them to combat the Second Amendment rights we have,” said McMillan Group owner Kelly McMillan. “It’s a covert way for them to control our right to manufacture guns and individuals to buy guns.”
An Attempt to Put Gun Retailers Out of Business?
These actions have prompted some banks to cut off online gun retailers even if they have good credit histories. The banks apparently want to avoid the hassle with the FDIC that is associated with servicing gun dealers and some other businesses.
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“This seems to be happening with greater frequency and to many more dealers,” Joe Sirochman, the owner of American Spirit Arms, told The Times. “At first, it was the bigger guys — gun parts manufacturers or high-profile retailers. Now the smaller mom-and-pop shops are being choked out, and they need their cash to buy inventory. Freezing their assets will put them out of business.”
Banks say the federal government is forcing the issue.
“We’re being threatened with a regulatory regime that attempts to foist on us the obligation to monitor all types of transactions,” Richard Riese of the American Bankers Association told American Banker. Riese told the newspaper that the cost of doing business with gun retailers was just too high for banks because of the new restrictions.
The Justice Department sent subpoenas to at least 50 banks as a result of Operation Choke Point, American Banker reported. At least one bank, Four Oaks Bank in North Carolina, has been forced to pay a $1.2 million fine as a result of the operation.
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The Justice Department is trying to “close access to the financial system to law-abiding businesses, because the mere prospect of an enforcement action is sufficient to cause financial institutions to restrict access to their payment systems to only established companies that present low risks,” the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group for small banks, alleged. The Association wants Operation Choke Point shut down immediately.
Not Just Gun Dealers Targeted
Gun retailers are not the only business being targeted by Operation Choke Point. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-California) and US Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) alleged that another industry, payday lending, is also feeling pressure.
“There is a determined effort from [the Justice Department] to the regulators to cut off credit and use other tactics to force [payday lenders] out of business,” Vitter said. “I find that deeply troubling because it has no statutory basis, no statutory authority.”
Issa accused the Justice Department of targeting lenders making perfectly legal online loans and of investigating for fraud even when no allegations of wrongdoing have been made. He also alleged that federal investigators are also trying to limit financial options available to poorer people.
“For these consumers who have been shut out of the traditional banking system, short-term online loans are often their only realistic way to make ends meet,” Issa said. “While online lending can be susceptible to fraud, the overwhelming majority of lenders fully comply with all applicable statutes, regulations, and industry-recognized best practices.”
Trying to Close Access to the Financial System
Congressional Republicans accuse the Obama Administration of trying to use the Financial Fraud Enforcement Taskforce to shut down businesses it doesn’t like. The idea behind the Taskforce, launched in 2009, is to restrict criminals’ access to banking.
Other industries targeted by the Taskforce include pornography, gambling and sellers of drug paraphernalia — all of which are legal. There have also been some allegations that private citizens are being targeted. This comment was posted on American Banker’s website on May 17:
“Dear God! I would have thought if I opened a site like Operation Choke Point that it was just a stupid site that believes in all the conspiracy theories. However I deliberately looked this up after my daughter’s banker told her that is why her account was closed.”
The daughter is an adult club dancer in Hollywood, Calif.
“Her bank is Chase,” the person said. “This is the most frightening thing that has ever happened. I am now a believer in what havoc Obama has reaped on American people. When are people going to realize that this is not a joke or the result of hysterical people. This is for real.”
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