Civil Liberties

Should Banks Be in the Gun Control Business?

There is no easy way to determine whether someone is spending a lot on guns because they like guns or because they plan to commit an act of terror.


A new federal gun control bill calls for banks and credit card companies to provide transaction data to the feds on some firearms purchases.

The Gun Violence Prevention Through Financial Intelligence Act, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D–Va.), would require the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to "request information from financial institutions for the purpose of developing an advisory about the identification and reporting of suspicious activity." The bill's aim is to identify a consistent purchasing pattern among people who buy firearms and firearm accessories in order to conduct "lone wolf acts of terror."

"Banks, credit card companies, and retailers have unique insight into the behavior and purchasing patterns that can help identify and prevent mass shootings," Wexton explained in a statement. "The red flags are there—someone just needs to be paying attention."

The New York Times reports that Wexton's bill was inspired in part by a 2018 investigation by Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin. Sorkin reported that in at least eight of the 13 mass shootings that had killed 10 or more people since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, the perpetrators used credit cards to finance their killing sprees. James Holmes, who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, used a credit card to purchase more than $11,000 worth of guns, grenades, and other military gear. Omar Mateen, the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooter in Orlando, Florida, ran up $26,532 in charges across six credit card accounts in the 12 days leading up to his attack.

Visa spokesperson Amanda Pires rightly told The New York Times last year that expecting "payment networks to arbitrate what legal goods can be purchased sets a dangerous precedent."

Past attempts by the government to identify "red flags" for illegal activity by analyzing transaction data have resulted in banks casting "as wide a net as possible." In their efforts to identify human traffickers, for instance, financial institutions have flagged such innocuous behaviors as running up large grocery bills and renting DVDs in bulk.

Almost half of gun owners report possessing at least four guns, and as with many other hobbies, it's easy to spend a great deal of money on gun-related products. There is no easy way to determine whether someone is spending a lot on guns because they like guns or because they plan to commit an act of terror. It's not hard to imagine law-abiding gun owners coming under suspicion should Wexton's bill become law.

NEXT: Senators Propose Limits on Police Use of Facial Recognition 

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  1. “…financial institutions have flagged such innocuous behaviors as running up large grocery bills and renting DVDs in bulk.”

    Color me… WOW!!!

    If we’re gonna “Red flag” the “R” Republicans from Red states (for buying guns), we’re also gonna need to balance that! “Blue flag” the “B” Blue Bitches from Blue states for…

    Paying for their majors studies in psychology, sociology, political science, media communications, “women’s studies”, “black people studies”, “gay people studies”…

    Spending too much money on arugula, fancy coffee, and organic food…

    Spending money for metrosexual stuff like whatever they use to tie up “man buns”!

    What else? Come on, people!

    1. it sounds like what china does

  2. Yes! We can add it to the pile of intel that is always found to have been ignored/not shared before nearly every one of these high profile incidents.

    1. Yes, spot on! Like friends and relatives and teachers and professors and co-workers who call the cops to warn them about the nut cases! These calls get ignored, while parents who “abandon” a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old in their locked car for a 4-minute mini-grocery run? THIS will turn out the cops and the social workers in hordes and droves!

      It’s also a very messy question of… WHAT are the cops going to DO with the “pre-crime” warnings that they DO get? Whatever they cops do (short of “pre-crime” jailing the pre-suspect) also runs the danger of SETTING OFF the nut job!

      I like to hope and believe all these kinds of cases (on both sides, both extremes) are just the exceptions, and not the rules, and that many-many-many (hopefully even most? I hope and pray!) cops and social workers have more common sense than that! The GOOD news (so-and-so behaved sensibly today!) doesn’t make the news!

      1. *knock knock*
        “Um, yes sir Mr G we noticed you bought a thousand rounds of .223 the other day on your american express”
        “Range day, fuck off”
        *door slam*

        1. And that’s the problem if you go by volume – a thousand rounds of ammo isn’t even range day for a lot of people, just “reload magazines in our go bags” day.

          That’s especially true in 22 caliber (both 223/556 and 22LR) when the weight and cost per round is low, just as it is with 9mm.

          My wife and I have only a few guns (and all of her black rifles fell into the lake in a tragic boating accident), but even so unless we’re buying defensive ammo it’s rare that we’re buying much less than a thousand at a time, and buying several thousand is normal.

          Even the figures in the article: $12k on guns and ammo isn’t particularly high – a his and hers WWSD2020 rifle is going to be around $5k, and those aren’t even particularly expensive (not cheap, just not particularly expensive).

          What so many don’t seem to understand about guns is also that a lot of people regularly sell theirs too – so a $12k purchase may really represent new acquisitions after the sale of a score of guns rather than purely new purchases.

          A buddy of mine has an “allowance” (from his own paycheck, of course) that he’s allowed to do whatever he wants with (but also includes eating out at lunch, fuel when he goes camping, etc), and I’ve seen him spend almost $20k on gun and gun accessories at a single time (a Barrett M82, scope, gunsmith mounting, and ammo), so even the figures in the story don’t seem out of line for me.

  3. In the future, there will be no crime, only pre-crime.

    1. Pre-crime is already here! Big-time!

      Threaten to kill a nobody, in a spat of verbal shit-slinging, and, the vast majority of the time, the cops won’t do diddly squat about it! Barely even take a report, at most…

      Threaten to kill the Emperor-POTUS, a Senator, or a fed-judge, and the cops will swarm you and deal out who knows HOW much punishment!

      That’s clear demonstration (to me at least), not only of “pre-crime”, but also, that “some of us are FAR more equal than others”!

      1. Except that’s not really pre-crime, Criminal threats are an actual crime, the laws are just inconsistently enforced

        1. They are a sort of pre crime. If you define a crime to be an act that harms another person.

    2. Which type of pre-crime? Specific behavior that might have some sketchy statistical correlation with specific future acts? Or social justice pre-crime, based on dis-favored gender, race, culture, politics, religion, or philosophy?

        Low cholesterol and violent crime.

        Low cholesterol is associated with violence, both as a disher-outer and as a victim. Low cholesterol types need to be jailed to protect them AND us!

        But yes, “reverse discrimination” against dis-favored types IS a flavor of “pre-crime”! Good point!

  4. It’s not hard to imagine law-abiding gun owners coming under suspicion should Wexton’s bill become law.

    A Democrat from Virginia? It’s not hard to believe that’s the intent, until such a time as “law abiding gun owner” is a contradiction in terms.

    Banks already will flag you for depositing $10,000 or more, and depositing less than $10,000 is presumed to be an attempt to avoid being flagged for depositing more than $10,000. I can certainly see being flagged for suspiciously buying too many guns and buying one or two guns flagged as suspiciously trying to avoid the suspicion of buying too many guns. Buying no guns at all will be most suspicious of all, of course.

    1. Damn right. What we REALLY need is for the financial community to flag suspicious THEFTS of guns in preparation for a shooting spree.
      While we are at it, let’s flag the purchase of padlocks, the weapon of choice for the fascist black shirts.

      1. How about flagging black shirt purchases?

  5. So just over 60% of “sprees” were financed with credit cards. I doubt this is an outlier. I should think 60% of all large purchases in this country use credit cards.
    Not fiscally wise but normal.
    Sounds more like a back door gun registry

    1. true,communist style government overreach

  6. A new federal gun control bill calls for banks and credit card companies to provide transaction data to the feds on some firearms purchases.

    Anyone who buys guns and ammo with traceable non-cash is a FOOL.

    Anyone who uses the unconstitutional background check method for buying a gun and then doesnt buy multiple guns under that single check is a FOOL.

    1. Make that “all” their guns and ammo, and I might agree. If you’ve ever gotten a firearms hunting license, it’s going to be pretty obvious you own at least one gun, and you want it to be easily found.

      I see from the news reports that most of the Virginia rally participants are staying just outside Northam’s kill zone, and holding their rally there. I hope they brought plenty of wire cutters for latter in the day when the real shindig starts.

      1. Some of us hunt on our own land and never get hunting permits.

    2. We need to track cash transactions as well – Prog

  7. No, they shouldn’t.

    They should focus on, you know, what they know. BANKING.

    1. They’re already doing that. And they are already being bailed out for the first crack in this new asset bubble (the repo market – $300 billion and counting since Sept) they’ve created. If I were conspiratorial, I’d say tracking weapons is just the first quid of the upcoming quid pro quo of the next big bailout. And you can fucking bet that banks will favor that sort of quid since its a win-win for them (reduce the danger of revolution in the streets v get a nice big bailout to reduce the danger of revolution in the streets).

      It’s not like anyone even remembers the last bailout. Or, if the repo market is the part that’s cracking, put anything in place to fix even the liquidity part of any future crisis.

      1. Interesting.

        Man, then America is more corrupt than we care to admit.

  8. Surprised no one is reading between the lines here: If banks find it too cumbersome to deal with firearms transactions they simply won’t process them much the same way they don’t handle accounts for firearms sellers.

    Have fun exercising your second amendment rights when the law knee-caps every single molecule of society that touches you. Firearm ownership is going to become like free speech in North Korea: Technically a guaranteed right that can never be practically exercised.

    1. That reminds me: I need to ditch my BoA account for their recent anti-gun activism.

      1. +1000

  9. Not only shouldn’t banks get involved in this, it should be viewed as a fiduciary violation for them to discourage such a substantial fraction of their potential customers from using them.

  10. “The red flags are there—someone just needs to be paying attention.”

    “You know, come to think of it–Jennifer *did* seem awfully interested in lone wolf acts of terror.”

  11. will they also start to monitor what websites we visit. thats always a clear indication that someone is not one of us.

    Personally I think this is an illegal law that also infringes on my privacy rights my freedom of association right my right to bare arms etc…

  12. I have always paid cash most stuff. Food, wine, beer, scotch, guns, ammo and all. Just checks for bills. Bought most of my guns from private sellers. Cash on the barrel head. Except my 12 gauge o/u. Needed the right fit.

  13. The problem is if I go and spend $5,000 at a gun shop the bank has no way of knowing if I bought one expensive gun, a dozen (or more) inexpensive ones, a couple crates of ammo, or anything else. All they know is I spent 5 grand

    1. 2030: You’ll get a day in jail for every dollar you spend.

  14. Why is Virginia suddenly becoming the new breeding ground for these insane laws? Is it because of all the left-wing government workers in NoVa and hippie retirees?

    1. Exactly.
      (well, maybe not so much for the hippie retirees; a lot of them are just smoking and relaxing)

      1. The thing is, when these government workers retire they end up migrating out into the rest of the state like locusts.

  15. Why that sounds absolutely egregious! Every major national bank in the country has already de-banked and blacklisted the NRA and other 2nd Amendment rights organizations as well as popular conservative media personalities and YouTube entertainers based upon their gun ownership views. The market is already taking care of this problem! Free minds and free markets baby! It’s not censorship or fascism if a private monopoly does it!

    1. Indeed. Michael Hihn would approve.


    2. How is it not censorship? Its just not government (and unconstitutional) censorship. That limits the avenues to address it, but doesn’t make it right

      Also, this article is about a bill that would mandate it for the banks that have chosen not to engage in it willingly

      1. No, it’s unconstitutional government censorship, and if the feds cared there would be prosecutions.

        Not figuratively: New York was quite clear in their letters that they’re pressuring banks to refuse service, so when the banks do they’re acting under coercion from the (state) government to suppress a constitutional right.

        It’s just the same as if a backwater sheriff went into every bookstore to see what they sold and upon seeing Christopher Hitchens books (Or pornography) told the owner they need to think of their interest in supporting the community standards lest there be a need for greater oversight in their activities – and if they aren’t sure just talk to the baptist minister down the street.

        It’s the same for many banks: NY tells them to not engage in certain kinds of legal business lest they be investigated endlessly. Just imagine if instead of guns those letters had said not to bank for “colored persons” and the pattern becomes even clearer.

  16. Even ignoring the constitutional issues, this is a stupid effort because Sorkin (and Wexton) have botched their statistics.

    1. The ability to predict 8 out of 13 true positives is a relatively poor prediction.

    2. Even if they’d been able to identify 13 out of 13, that measure is useless without also knowing the false positive rate of the proposed test. I could just as easily show that 100% of the last 13 mass murders breathed and drank water. Should we therefore investigate everyone with lungs?

    It’s a stupid test with no statistical predictive power. Sorkin is a propagandist hack so you should expect such nonsense from him. Wexton should be ashamed.

    1. Your point is what I came fo say, though I’ll just add that if 13 out of 13 mass murderers breathed water you’re really on to something 😉

  17. More bad economic news.

    Of the top 100 richest people on the planet, 18 have lost money this year.

    We Koch / Reason libertarians call this an 18% failure rate. And it’s absolutely unacceptable. Our philosophy demands an increase in the wealth of every person who already has at least $10,000,000,000. And Drumpf’s high-tariff / low-immigration policies are preventing that.


  18. Hey, if you don’t like it, start your own financial system.

    1. Isn’t the easy workaround to buy guns slowly? If I amass 20K in guns/ammo in 1 week the odds are that I’m up to something nefarious or I’m trying to impress a girl that’s coming over next week. Both are stupid ideas.

      It’s like the coupons that have limitations. The workarounds are so easy.

      1. Why should we accept a workaround to exercise a Constitutional right?

  19. Gramma always said, “she who dies with the most debt wins.”

    So, “the jihad martyr who mass shoots and is shot in turn or suicides with the most credit card debt wins” is the 2020 Gramma.

    What a country!

  20. There’s just something about a mass surveillance state.

  21. Credit card companies already flag sudden large or unusual purchases, or out of state purchases for security purposes because of credit card theft.

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