(Note: The writer is answering the question: Are big banks wrong to deny services to clients that manufacture or sell guns?)
WASHINGTON — Private businesses in America can play a critical role in encouraging, supporting and enacting social change.
Taking positions on important, socially responsible causes can influence the marketplace for goods and services, maintain consumer focus around an issue and build customer support and loyalty by allowing customers to align their spending with their values.
The issue of gun violence is one in particular calling out for a corporate response to spur meaningful reforms to protect public safety.
Gun violence is one of the most dangerous public health epidemics facing Americans today. Every day, 96 Americans are killed by guns, with another 200 injured.
The private sector has a role to play to combat this crisis. While some gun manufacturers have embraced policies to keep their firearms out of dangerous hands, the vast majority of gun companies have yet to take such voluntary steps.
And if they won’t take action to safeguard their products, then banks and other investors are well within their right to act in the public interest to pressure them to do so.
In the months since a shooter shot and killed 17 innocent students and teachers in Parkland, Fla., more and more people have turned their attention to assault weapons.
These dangerous weapons of war have no business in places of peace, and private companies are increasingly recognizing this fact.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Bank of America announced that it will cease lending to any companies that make assault weapons for civilian use.
Putting aside the fact that as private companies these businesses are free to provide or deny services to whomever they wish, they are clearly acting in the best interests of their customers.
We know that laws preventing the sales of assault weapons work — the federal ban in place from 1994-2004 was proven to reduce shooting massacres in the United States. But if Congress is unwilling to act on the issue, it falls to private industry to do so.
Under federal law, you must be 21 years or older in order to purchase a handgun. But in order to buy a long gun, including a semi-automatic rifle, the purchaser only needs to be 18 years old.
There has been a surge in support throughout the states for raising the purchase age since Parkland, with numerous Republican officials — including Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Florida Gov. Rick Scott — throwing their support behind the proposal.
However, Congress has to date failed to consider similar federal legislation.
In one of the most influential moves from a major bank to address this issue, Citigroup announced this spring that they will require any new customers who are gun sellers to commit to not selling any guns to customers under 21. Once again, private industries are taking strong, decisive action to safeguard their customers.
Americans from coast to coast are making clear that they have had enough of the gun violence epidemic plaguing our country, and banks and other major companies are listening and acting.
The Brady Campaign’s Gun Dealer Code of Conduct provides a blueprint for how gun sellers can take action on their own accord to make sure their firearms aren’t being sold to dangerous and prohibited people, but if they won’t implement responsible business practices on their own, then it falls upon influencers such as major banks to force their hand.
When it comes to responsible gun ownership, private businesses are well within their rights to act in the public and moral interest to ensure our safety.
Kristin Brown is chief strategy officer of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. She holds a law degree from Virginia’s George Mason University. Readers may write her at Brady Campaign, 840 First Street NE, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20002.