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Wells Fargo is talking to its gun maker clients, CEO says

Wells Fargo is talking to its gun maker clients, CEO says
Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan testifies before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee in October 2017. (Alex Edelman / Zuma Press/TNS)

Wells Fargo & Co. is in talks with gun makers that are its clients, Chief Executive Timothy Sloan said Tuesday, making his company the latest financial institution to speak about the issue after last month's deadly attack at a Florida high school.

Wells Fargo, the No. 3 U.S bank by assets, has been the gun industry's top financier, Bloomberg News reported this month.

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Sloan did not say what Wells Fargo might do, and he declined to name the gun makers, citing client confidentiality. But he said the bank is providing those clients with feedback it is hearing from Wells Fargo employees, investors and others.

"Some of our team members are concerned about who can buy semiautomatic weapons in this country, and they're concerned about various laws and the like," Sloan said in an interview. "What we find is absolutely consistent whether you are a gun owner or not: You want your children to be safe, they should be safe when they go to school, they should be safe when they're walking down the street. That's consistent. How we go about that is more complicated."

The bank helped two of the biggest U.S. firearm and ammunition firms get $431.1 million in loans and bonds since December 2012, a time when gun control issues reignited after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Bloomberg reported. It also said Wells Fargo has provided a credit line to the National Rifle Assn.

Last weekend, students led more than 800 events worldwide calling for more gun control. Organizers in Charlotte, N.C., said they were horrified by the February shooting in which 17 students and faculty members were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla.

New York-based Citigroup, the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets, announced last week a new policy for its retail clients, including a requirement that they not sell firearms to anyone who hasn't passed a background check. In addition, they must not sell firearms to individuals under 21 or sell bump stocks or high-capacity magazines.

The policy applies to clients of all sizes, as well as to credit card partners. "It doesn't impact the ability of consumers to use their Citi cards at merchants of their choice," the bank said.

Bank of America, the No. 2 U.S. bank, said in February that it was reaching out to clients that manufacture assault weapons for nonmilitary use "to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility."

Sloan said Wells Fargo is continuing to encourage elected officials to look at the issue not from a partisan perspective, "but in a way that they can really solve the problem."

Banks' role in the issue should involve encouraging customers to follow the law, Sloan said, "whatever the law might be."

But he pushed back on the idea that a solution could be banks cutting ties to gun makers or preventing customers from buying guns. Sloan noted that Wells Fargo can't even tell what a person is buying at the time they are using a credit or debit card at a retailer.

"I don't know if Americans, regardless of which side of the issue you might be on, on whether or not folks should own guns or which type they should purchase, do they really want their bank to be making that decision?" he said. "I don't know if banks or credit card companies or any other financial institution should be the arbiter of what an American can buy."

Roberts and Rothacker write for the Charlotte Observer/McClatchy.

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