Never Leave Home Without It

The disfavored rights are the ones where it starts. As long as you’re against hate speech, rationalizations to censor speech are understandable, even if still troubling, and you’ll overlook some of the unpleasant details about rights because the outcome seems okay with you. After all, what sort of horrible person doesn’t abhor hate speech? And if hate speech is bad, guns are far worse.

Corporate activism and corporate power combine to achieve results that government cannot. American freedom suffers. We lose a culture that respects liberty even as the law remains (for now) intact.

Smarter gun-control activists have taken note of this fact. In August I wrote a piece noting that corporate gun-control efforts are on the rise. Citigroup and Bank of America both imposed restrictions on their business customers. Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Amazon, and Shopify have all imposed various limits on efforts to speak about or seek firearms.

If you look closely, you might begin to see dots to connect, and thread that runs from one bad thing to another, but instead of coming back to the government directly, they’re tethered to something else, something plastic (or, if you’re really fancy, metal of late).

There has been a movement afoot to eliminate paper money, cash, which is expensive to create, doesn’t last long and allows for anonymous transactions. Criminals use cash to conceal their dirty deeds. So do regular folks, often poor people who lack the documentation needed to get bank accounts or have a regular place of residence. Cash is great for drug deals and beating the IRS. Plastic, on the other hand, is great for the government, as it provides a record of every purchase.

In an online world, cash is doubly problematic. Try as you might, shoving a bill into a port on your computer will not complete a transaction. You can use a credit card. You can use an online payment processor. You cannot, however, use cash, even if you can still drop a dime. And, as David French notes, people have added two and two.

Some of those limits are modest, but the trend is ominous. And if there is one thing we know about the relatively small world of high-level corporate political fashion, it’s that even one article — especially if it’s in the New York Times — can have a large effect on the debate.

And that brings me to Andrew Ross Sorkin’s most recent reported article in the Times, a long look at how “banks unwittingly finance mass shootings.” The thesis is simple — some mass shooters have bought expensive firearms, ammunition, and military-style gear before launching their shooting sprees. In eight of the 13 mass shootings that killed ten or more people this decade, the killers “financed their attacks using credit cards.”

My initial reaction to the story was to make a joke of it, but the thrust of Sorkin’s thesis is no laughing matter. If mass shooters use credit cards to “finance” their attacks, then credit cards provide a means to thwart their attacks. Certainly, stopping mass shooters is a good thing, and now that a correlation has been established, there’s a wedge available to exploit. What could be wrong with this?

And there is a surface appeal to the notion that modern tech can ping the police when there’s a clear warning flag for the worst forms of criminal behavior — but increasing corporate surveillance of lawful activity is not the way to stop the rarest (and most premeditated) of attacks. It is, however, yet another way to shame and stigmatize entirely normal Americans who seek to protect their homes and families.

Everybody uses plastic to “finance” their purchase of guns, because we use credit cards to buy pretty much everything. And as David explains, guns are expensive and few people have the cash in their pocket to make such purchases. But there’s nothing unlawful about buying a gun, and law-abiding folks buy guns as well as mass shooters. Not to raise an unpleasant thought, but they have a constitutional right to possess guns, and the exercise of a constitutional right, even one that doesn’t appeal to you, doesn’t make them bad people.

There are two reactions to this correlation, the first being that credit card companies could be compelled to report to the government “unusual” gun purchases, much as they report “unusual” currency transactions.

What’s the level of expense to trigger the proposed system and cause the bank to either decline the transaction or notify law enforcement? And note that this system could impact law-abiding Americans by the millions when the Times found eight mass killers in a decade financed their weapons and other gear on credit. That’s less than one per year, and many of these individuals were radiating warning signs indicating mental instability or malign purpose separate and apart from any lawful gun purchases.

Whether that last sentence is intended to suggest that reporting should include people who use plastic to buy guns plus pay for therapy is unclear, but it’s more likely that David is pointing out that there are better indicia of an inclination toward mass murder than gun purchases.

But then, there is another mechanism for credit cards to influence your buying habits, just as they can influence Patreon’s hosting habits. As some have already done, they can refuse to allow their card to be used for the purchase of things about which they disapprove. Whether guns or plastic straws, excess-calorie kids’ meals, marijuana or dues to the NRA, they can just say “declined.”

The modestly thoughtful will note that Mastercard isn’t the government, and so can’t violate your constitutional rights. The even more thoughtful will mutter “third party doctrine,” that these private companies cooperating with the government for the sake of societal concerns is entirely lawful; you gave them the information to be used against you, willingly, happily and mindlessly. As cash fades into oblivion, we become increasingly subject to their requirements, and they become increasingly less responsive to ours.

Whether the use of private enterprise to manage our rights is a bad thing at the moment seems to be subject to your values. Hate guns? Hate speech? Then you will applaud their actions and see them as responsible corporate citizens and excuse their excesses for the good of the people. But since corporations are beyond the reach of the Constitution, and in the pocket of government regulators, their decisions to decline might not always align with your values. By then, of course, the die will have long since been cast.

19 thoughts on “Never Leave Home Without It

  1. Skink

    The same-thinking people decry the power of corporations and howl that corporations are treated as people in law. So climbing into bed with your perceived oppressor to fight your perceived current wrong is a workable solution? The nearsighted don’t see the power being given to the corporations.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Interesting that you used the word “given” to corporations, as we are happily handing it over, whether willingly or mindlessly.

      Reply
      1. Xchixm

        Corporations haven’t been given anything. These social constructs are people, and people have rights; therefore they’re socially constructed rights. Think proves rights are social constructs which must be deconstructed arbitrarily.

        Reply
            1. Skink

              “Now the objectively factual comment is perfected. You should be able to even now.”

              I think you should try again. This time, take the marbles out of your mouth and put them back in your head.

      1. LocoYokel

        Quite honestly, given how they are defining “Social Progress” these days I am quite terrified of it. And I, accident or illness barring, have enough decades left in me that I will have to deal with it for at least one or two.

        Hoping the pendulum swings back at least partway soon.

        Reply
      2. WFG

        As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
        There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
        That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
        And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

        And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
        When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
        As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
        The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

        Reply
        1. Lee

          While Kipling may not be in favor in academia, I refuse to abandon his works because they are no longer PC. Some of his stuff still makes sense, even in the 21st Century.

          Reply
    1. Rigelsen

      It’s not just that the policies don’t actually work, but that the policies actively deny disfavored rights while disclaiming that the disfavored have rights at all. If such weren’t the case, I expect the response would instead range from pointing and laughing to an occasional Picardian face-palm.

      Reply
    2. Lee

      Or, in the case of “background checks for online purchases,” a policy for a nonexistent problem (You can only buy a gun online if you go through a federally licensed dealer, who must run a NICS background check). Unfortunately, it appears that many voters cannot recognize this straw man (or hollow man) argument for what it is, a fabrication.

      Bah! Humbug!

      Reply
  2. B. McLeod

    Still in the last century, I use cash for most purchases and most charitable donations as well. I just don’t like the prospect of merchants selling one another my transactional history for marketing purposes. I also don’t think the government needs to know what I purchase at the grocery store or anywhere else.

    I can see why card issuers would be cheesed off by suicidal mass shooters charging their guns and ammunition and then getting killed before the bill comes due. But realistically, these people will find a way. They could just as easily borrow cash via ATM and buy their supplies that way. In a pinch, they will just use their own cash. This card issuer campaign will end up being an annoyance that does not solve the problem.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: NYT: credit card companies should cut off (or report) gun sales | Overlawyered

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