Credit Card Companies Have No Business Playing Second Amendment Censors
Do we want to live in an America where credit card companies watch our buying habits and then block purchases for ideological reasons?
Not long ago, the left side of the American electorate would have shouted "hell no" the loudest.
Today, many on the left are cheering on, even pushing censorship in social media and more, as long as the suppression of ideas protects their political goals. They even want big business to restrict gun sales, as they don't see firearms as tools of freedom.
Just before Christmas, The New York Times ran an article titled "How Credit Cards Are Used to Finance Mass Shootings." This followed an op-ed the NYT ran last spring calling for credit card companies to track and block some gun sales, such as stopping someone from buying a certain number of guns or from purchasing politically incorrect types of firearms.
About a month after the NYT op-ed, The Wall Street Journal reported that banks and credit card companies had begun "discussing" how they could pull off this idea from the left.
To block certain gun sales, banks and credit card companies determined they'd need to require retailers to give even more information so they could see the difference between, say, someone buying a semiautomatic rifle and someone purchasing a vacuum cleaner. Getting into the censorship business, as it turns out, takes a lot of Big Brother data.
"There are federal laws limiting the government's use of electronic databases of gun sales," says Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for firearms manufacturers (full disclosure: I've done some contract work for the NSSF), "but of course the Bill of Rights restricts government, not private citizens or corporations. So they are trying to get around laws by coercing financial institutions into ideologically attacking American freedoms. Financial institutions have long been neutral on these issues. Our credit-card companies and banks should not be political tools for anyone to use."
Companies are continuing to respond to this pressure. According to a tweet from Patreon, a crowdfunding site, MasterCard recently pressured Patreon into banning conservative author Robert Spencer.
Patreon's cave to MasterCard is having consequences. Author and popular YouTube sensation Jordan Peterson along with Dave Rubin, a popular podcaster, announced they are leaving Patreon as of January 15. Sam Harris, a popular author and podcaster, also left Patreon for this reason. Peterson, Rubin, and Harris opted to do this even though they've made a lot of money via Patreon. "This is about making a stand against the ever moving encroachment on free speech," said Rubin. (Notably, Peterson is considered politically conservative; Rubin is more often called a libertarian; and Harris, who makes atheism a central part of his message, is considered to be on the left.)
This corporate censorship might simply sound like something the market will correct as people take their business elsewhere – Peterson and Rubin are talking about creating their own crowd-funding platform – and that might be the case if some in government weren't also trying to use financial institutions to censure the politically incorrect.
"If the NRA goes bankrupt, I will remember them in my thoughts and prayers," said New York governor Andrew Cuomo after it became known that he'd used New York State regulators to threaten financial institutions that do business with gun-manufacturers and gun rights associations.
Cuomo had ordered the New York State Department of Financial Services to tell the banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions it oversees "to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations. Upon this review, the companies are encouraged to consider whether such ties harm their corporate reputations and jeopardize public safety."
The NRA sued, and, last November, U.S. district judge Thomas McAvoy of the Northern District of New York wrote:
The allegations of direct and implied threats to insurers and financial institutions because of these entities' links with the NRA, and the allegations of resulting harm to the NRA's operations, are sufficient to make out plausible First Amendment freedom-of-speech claims.
The NRA's lawsuit is now thankfully moving forward, but this entire line of attack on the Second Amendment's right to bear arms and the First Amendment's right to associate with whom we chose wouldn't have even been politically possible if the mainstream media treated this issue with a little fairness.
The mainstream media should realize that if Cuomo gets away with this First Amendment attack, they might be next, as politicians have come after members of the media before. Or what if a conservative politician were to use his position to threaten the financial relationships of abortion-providers?
Meanwhile, we all need to let credit card companies, banks, and other financial institutions know we don't want them playing politics with our free and lawful decisions to speak or to purchase legal products.