I say this with all sincerity. I think we need to commend gun control groups for their dedication to the mission. When gun control fails legislatively, they don't give up. We just saw how Gifford's gun control group successfully pressured UPS and FedEx to change their policies regarding companies that sell unfinished receivers. And now Giffords, Guns Down America and others are once again pressuring credit card companies to refuse to offer their services to these gun companies.
Guns Down America and Giffords Group —
Guns Down America is a non-profit gun-control organization founded in 2016. A recent post on their site talks about their ongoing effort that started in 2018 to urge:
the financial industry to prevent bad actors from abusing the banking system to obtain large quantities of firearms and ammunition and using the firepower they purchase on bank credit to take innocent lives.
The powerful Giffords group shared the post in a tweet I've included below. As you can see, Giffords group wants credit card companies to “flag suspicious purchases.” The reason? To “save lives.”
The shooters in at least 5 mass shootings have stockpiled guns & ammo using credit cards and killed 145 people.@Visa, @Mastercard, @americanexpress have the power to flag suspicious purchases and save lives. Call on them to act. https://t.co/7FpUwLOCgV
— Giffords (@GiffordsCourage) August 28, 2022
Profiling People Through Their Purchases —
The idea here is that because mass shooters purchase “a lot” of ammunition, and sometimes “a lot” of guns, if credit card companies flag these “suspicious” purchases, they can stop a future mass shooting and save lives.
Okay,I AM BEHIND any initiative that can stop mass shootings and save lives; provided it does not violate our Constitution and doesn't make every American less able to protect themselves and their families. So before we jump on board with any proposal, let's pause for a moment and ask a few questions.
Credit Card Transactions of 3 Murderers —
First, how much money would I have to spend before my transactions are “suspicious”? Well, Guns Down America lists 3 examples to support their position. They are:
- In 2012, the shooter who killed 12 people in Aurora, CO charged $9,000 on credit cards to purchase guns, ammunition, and body armor in just 2 months.
- In 2016, the shooter who killed 49 people in Orlando, FL charged $26,000 on credit cards to purchase guns and ammunition in just 12 days.
- In 2017, the shooter who killed 60 people in Las Vegas, NV charged $94,000 on credit cards to purchase guns and ammunition over a period of 12 months.
I'm not going to debate the figures represented on the website and will assume they are 100% accurate. If we look at the numbers, we might get a better idea of what the group thinks the threshold to trigger a suspicious person should be.
For the Las Vegas murderer, he spent roughly $7,834 a month on firearms, ammunition and gear for an entire year. That is a lot of money. The psychopath that murdered people in a Florida dance club spent $26k in 12 days to acquire his firearms, gear and ammunition. I think everyone can agree both of these guys charged a lot of money in a short period. That's not debated, but is it suspicious behavior?
The only way to know if it truly is suspicious behavior would be to look at how many people spent similar amounts of money over similar time periods and didn't murder a bunch of people. We don't have that info, and will never have that info, because I suspect that there are more than a few people who've spent similar amounts of money on expensive firearms, accessories and ammunition and haven't shot a single person.
How about the disturbed young man who killed a bunch of people in Colorado? He spent $9,000 in two months on his gear. While the figures of the other two maniacs were high, I can't even get close to the idea that spending $9,000 on firearms and accessories in two months is suspicious or an indicator that someone is going to commit a mass shooting.
What people may not understand is that some firearms can easily cost 4 or 5 thousand dollars, and some even more. We can argue if that is a wise investment, but people should be able to spend money they earn on what they want, right?
Where is The Evidence?
The organization used three instances, but are there more? I suspect if an organization's mission is to link credit card transactions to mass shootings, and they've been at it for 4 years, they would have data for EVERY incident that supports their position. They apparently went back to at least 2012, and in 10 years, have come up with three instances that are even remotely tied to their premise. If there are more incidents, why would the organization post a few incidents, instead of EVERY incident that supports their position?
I don't have access to financial records of every mass shooter, and it's possible that Guns Down America just selected three incidents to support their cause, but I have a feeling these incidents are the only ones that even remotely back up the idea that high-dollar credit card purchases of firearms in a shot time, are an indicator of a future mass shooting. If this is the evidence to support the claim, I'm sorry I'm out.
I don't think there is any way a system of flagging “suspicious” gun purchases doesn't get abused. The reason is that those who would flag the purchases would determine the definition of suspicious. For example, say I'm going to attend a training event, and I need a few thousand rounds of ammunition. I also want a new gun, holster and optic. I could easily spend 3k in one day. Would I be flagged as a suspicious person? What about the other 15 people attending the class? What about if I wanted to attend a class 2 months later and had the means to spend another 3k?
Investigating the Purchaser —
And if I'm flagged as suspicious, then what? See, the idea is not just flagging suspicious purchases. It MUST be investigating the people who make suspicious purchases.
Well Guns Down America says:
Banks can and must flag such suspicious activity in the same way that they report known patterns of identity theft, fraud, or human trafficking to law enforcement officials.
So if someone at my bank flags a purchase as suspicious, should I expect a visit from local or federal law enforcement. Is it reasonable for them to visit my house and question me? Maybe stop my in my vehicle to ensure I'm not heading out to shoot people?
Or should my name be added to a secret watch list?
What authority is given to investigate people who make “suspicious” purchases? Can the government tap my phone or intercept communications? If the goal is to stop a mass shooting, those all seem like things many people could get behind.
All these are legitimate concerns that deserve answering. But in the emotion of wanting to stop killings, they aren't even considered.
Is This a Viable Plan?
I don't doubt the sincerity of some people who support gun control initiatives. Many of them are caring people with a genuine desire to stop violence. I just don't think they have unemotionally and factually thought through the proposals. And I believe there are others involved in the gun control argument, who are dishonest and desire to disarm law-abiding citizens, no matter the cost. They see gun ownership as wrong,
Guns Down America says
…the nation’s nearly 9,000 stand-alone gun and ammunition stores must be categorized under a new and unique Merchant Category Code within the financial system. Since no such code currently exists and gun stores are sometimes classified as “sporting goods” retailers, banks have no way of knowing that bad actors are suspiciously purchasing thousands of dollars of firearms and ammunition over a short period of time.
In this scenario now, we are looking at any transaction from a specific business that happens to sell firearms. Under this idea, high-dollar transactions that aren't guns or ammunition, but come from a store that sells guns, could be suspicious. Again, there are no guardrails for this, it's wrong on face value and ultimately will not be effective in stopping someone from killing groups of people as evidenced from all the other mass killing incidents involving guns, cars or knives the person owned for years.
In summary —
If the cure is worse than the problem, we need to reject the idea outright. Guns Down America says they are:
…working closely with Amalgamated Bank and Giffords to establish the necessary Merchant Category Code. But Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are actively blocking our efforts and standing in the way of life-saving reforms.
I support the right of any business to choose to refuse service to any person or industry that would violate a moral or religious conviction. At the same time, we must be careful that the federal or state government not pressure a private business to change a policy that is otherwise legal, simply because of the government's current political or social world-view. I just ask people on both sides of the gun control issue to pause and rationally think about the effects of any proposal.
What do you think, would this plan of flagging high-dollar gun purchases help stop mass shootings? Am I overstating the potential abuses? What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.