Photo: Ashley Gilbertson / New York Times 2018
Gun control activists have spent years trying to limit the number of assault-style firearms available to civilians: holding rallies, drafting proposed laws and backing campaigns by shareholders of publicly traded gun-makers.
Now, one advocacy group is focusing on a different pressure point: the consumer banks that provide loans and other financial support to the gun industry.
The group, Guns Down America, which formed in 2016 after a mass shooting in Orlando, has created a ranking system that gives 15 banks letter grades based primarily on their ties to firearms makers and trade groups like the National Rifle Association.
Six of the banks, including JPMorgan Chase and San Francisco’s Wells Fargo, received failing grades. Citigroup earned the highest one, a B.
Igor Volsky, Guns Down America’s founder and executive director, said he hoped the grading system would compel banks to be more publicly supportive of gun control measures, in the same way that many companies have taken positions on gay rights, immigration and other social issues.
Part of the mission, he added, is stopping “the Wild Wild West of how gun manufacturers both produce military-style weapons and also how they can market those firearms.”
The group used a 100-point scale that applied different weights to factors like a bank’s loans to and investments in gun-makers; its public statements about gun safety; its support for lawmakers backed by the NRA; and the discounts and deals it offers to NRA members.
The basis for the grades was publicly available information gathered from media reports, regulatory documents, campaign finance filings and other sources. Any undisclosed updates to gun-related deals, legal complications that might affect those arrangements and internal discussions were not reflected.
Guns Down America said it had shared its methodology and individual grades with all 15 banks and was involved in continuing talks with some of them, but several banks contacted for comment said that they had not been consulted and that the group had relied on arbitrary metrics.
After a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., Delta Air Lines, Hertz and several other companies broke with the NRA, and retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods made some guns harder to buy. Influential Wall Street figures like Laurence Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, publicly embraced gun safety efforts.
The financial industry’s connections to gun makers have drawn attention before. In December, the New York Times reported that many of the mass shootings in the past decade had been financed with credit cards.
Some banks have already started to revise their policies and practices on firearms. Citigroup, which earned a score of 84 from Guns Down America, said in March 2018 that it would work only with clients that agreed to certain restrictions on firearm sales.
A short time later, Bank of America said it would stop lending to companies that made military-inspired firearms for civilian use. It was subsequently criticized for its commitment to contribute $43.2 million in bankruptcy financing for Remington. Bank of America, which did not respond to a request for comment, got a C from Guns Down America.
Guns Down America found that Wells Fargo had extended $471 million in loans and credit to gun-makers since 2012, including a $40 million loan to Sturm Ruger last year. The NRA also uses Wells Fargo, and the bank donated $92,000 to a group of lawmakers supported by the trade group, Guns Down America said.
Trisha Schultz, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said in a statement that the bank planned to invest more than $10 million over three years in studying gun-violence prevention and in improving school safety. The bank, she said, has “a small and declining relationship with the NRA.”
Tiffany Hsu is a New York Times writer.