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Big banks take a stand against the gun industry

Big banks take a stand against the gun industry
Bank of America Corp. plans to stop lending to companies that make assault-style guns used for non-military purposes. (Puttawat Santiyothin/ TNS)

It's too early to say for sure, but it could be that the free market will wind up doing what Congress refuses to do: tighten access to firearms and stand up to companies that make and sell assault-style weapons.

Bank of America announced last week that it will no longer finance companies that make the kinds of combat-style semiautomatic rifles that have been used to such deadly effect in mass shootings. Last month, Citigroup Inc. announced that it would prohibit clients using its financial services and credit cards from selling firearms to customers who have not passed a background check, or who are younger than 21, even when neither of those things are required by law. It also now refuses to do business with clients who sell bump stocks — the device the Las Vegas sniper used to convert his semiautomatic rifles into ersatz machine guns — and high-capacity magazines. Those banking sector moves followed policy changes among some major retailers, such as Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods, to end sales of some guns in their stores and tighten restrictions on sales of others.

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There is no persuasive argument against universal background checks, yet the spineless leaders in Congress refuse to take action.


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The immediate genesis of all this, of course, was the Valentine's Day slaughter of 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff members in Parkland, Fla., the furious backlash by the survivors through social and traditional media and the ensuing nationwide March for Our Lives rallies last month that drew hundreds of thousands of protesters. The massacre and public response also have led some state and local governments to tighten controls on certain weapons and buyers.

But Congress remains stuck in the gun lobby's "thoughts and prayers" mode, which is why it's heartening to see some major banks and retailers taking action, whether the moves are born of a humanitarian impulse or a recognition that being too close to firearms can be bad for business or some combination of the two.

Next week, students around the nation will lead another public protest — the National School Walkout to commemorate the April 20, 1999, Columbine school massacre in Colorado in which 13 people were killed. That mass shooting was, in retrospect, the beginning of the current wave of violent attacks on schools, often by students themselves, and often using semiautomatic firearms. In normal times, responsible adults would argue against kids cutting classes, but these are far from normal times. So we hope this next round of anti-gun and anti-violence protests is even more successful than the March for Our Lives, and that it increases pressure on elected officials to shake loose of the grip of the gun lobby and adopt sensible gun controls. That should begin with a renewed ban on assault-style weapons. Guns designed for, or patterned after, weapons of war have no place in civilian hands.

Universal background checks — which would stop guns from changing hands without verification that the receiver is eligible to own a firearm — are clearly constitutional, and help reduce access to firearms by people even the NRA thinks ought not have them. There is no persuasive argument against universal background checks, yet the spineless leaders in Congress refuse to take action.

The best proposal Congress has come up with is the so-called "Fix NICS" bill, a good measure that would put more weight behind existing requirements that federal agencies report to the national database the names of people ineligible to own a gun, and provide money to entice more states to do the same (because of the division between federal and state responsibilities, state reporting to the federal system is voluntary). But even if it were to pass, Fix NICS would still be a baby step.

Meanwhile, a bill that would require all states to recognize any other state's concealed-carry permit has passed the House, though in the wake of the Parkland shooting it hasn't gained traction in the Senate. This is an extreme and dangerous proposal that would undermine states' ability to set their own restrictions on who gets to walk around armed.

There must be an accounting at the ballot box for Congress' failure to attend to act on such a critical public safety issue as gun control.

In the meantime, it's good that two banks have acted, and we hope to see more banks, retailers and others that intersect with the gun industry make similar decisions. Guns may be legal, but that doesn't wash the blood of the slain from the hands of those who manufacture and prosper from firearms.

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