Citibank Goes PC

Who gains by such policies, and who loses?

By T. Dave Gowan & Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute

9/20/00 9:25 a.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel on anti-gun organizations.

This summer, Citibank announced that it would close all the accounts of customers who owned firearms-related businesses. Citibank quickly relented under a boycott threat from the Second Amendment Foundation.

Citibank's short-lived policy of political correctness, while mean-spirited, did not threaten anyone's safety, other than the safety of profits for Citibank shareholders. Other businesses, however, have taken far more dangerous steps in order to be politically correct.

In many states which allow law-abiding citizens to carry handguns for protection, some banks and other businesses exercise their property rights to exclude lawful gun carriers. Some of these business have relented under strong and immediate pressure from firearms owners, while other businesses cling to the exclusionary policy.

Who gains by such policies, and who loses?

Suppose a bank posts a sign on the doors of every branch saying "No Firearms Allowed." A customer approaches the door. She is a law-abiding citizen who carries a concealed weapon with a permit for good reasons; she has been mugged in the past. She sees the sign on the door. Does she enter? No, but she realizes she can't do business with the bank if she can't enter the premises. She puts the firearm in her car, enters the bank and does business, and as soon as possible moves her savings, checking, and investment accounts to another bank.

Later that day, two men drive up to the bank door, and double park with the engine running. One of them approaches the door with a sawed-off shotgun, a hooded sweatshirt ,and sunglasses. Does he read the "No Firearms Allowed" sign, and say to himself, "Gee, I can't carry my gun in there. I guess we'll have to go down the street and rob that other bank"?

The robber who reads the sign laughs, robs the bank anyway, terrifies 15 customers, then brags to his friends afterwards about the stupid sign the bank put on the door.

Do criminals prefer to rob businesses where the victims are unarmed? Athena Research's 1996 study of 310 Seattle armed robbers found: "Many robbers said their biggest fear is the victim will pull a gun. It is the reason they are reluctant to hold up 'mom and pop' stores where — unlike chain stores — the owners may be armed." The robbers' advice to potential victims: "A number of robbers recommended having a gun." (News Tribune (Seattle), Apr. 2, 1996.)

In 1967, rising rates of store robberies in Kansas City prompted a police program to train store owners in gun use. The next year, as Gary Kleck details in his award-winning book Point Blank, while the robbery rate in Missouri and the United States continued to rise significantly, the rate fell in the Kansas City metro area. The trend of increasing burglary in the area also came to an abrupt end, contrary to state and national patterns.

The irony is that in the attempt to look good to the establishment media, corporations are creating self-defeating policies: Many desirable customers take their business elsewhere because of anti-gun policies. And the people you'd rather not have on the premises of your business aren't deterred by the policy at all; they're actually encouraged to visit.

Another irony is that when the media report the new policy, more firearms owners and criminals read the news. Customers leave, while criminals arrive to victimize the business and its remaining customers.

Who responds negatively to businesses discriminating against firearms owners and businesses? Most gun owners do. Many newspapers portray NRA members as plaid-shirted, grass-stem-sucking, kill-everything country hicks. Actually, the ranks of the NRA are weighted towards armed-services veterans, street-level police officers, and others who traditionally hunt and carry firearms in daily life. NRA members include government employees, teachers, lawyers, bankers, and even newspaper staff and editors. (This latter type of NRA member tends to be pretty quiet about membership, since the media's obsession with "diversity" and "tolerance" doesn't include tolerating diverse opinions about Second Amendment issues.)

Firearms-rights activists are extremely well-connected, with web pages, clubs, business organizations, associations and grassroots groups all tied together by an array of e-mail listservers and newsletters which spread the word. Indeed, next to Internet privacy activists, gun-rights activists have the world's best network of e-mail, websites, fax lists, newsletters, and other modes of rapid communication. All those years of being shut out of the establishment media have led Second Amendment supporters to develop powerful alternative communications systems.

Are there business opportunities in accommodating firearms owners? There are many. Firearms owners experience discrimination by uninformed businesses every day. Any business facing tight competition from many others in a well-defined market can expand its market share by taking advantage of the niche created by firearms owners looking for services. One such corporation is Wal-Mart, which provides many citizens an introduction to sport shooting, hunting, and competitive shooting. The chain sells sporting firearms and supplies, and firearms owners and their families and friends are particularly loyal to the corporation.

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