New Bill Seeks To Force Financial Institutions To Spy On Gun Purchases

No one likes their personal dealings to be dug into. Most of us have nothing to hide, we just don’t think it’s anyone’s business what we do. That’s especially true when it comes to money. A person’s finances are about as personal as you can get.

However, a new bill seeks to undermine your privacy when it comes to gun purchases.

A new gun control bill calls for banks and credit card companies to track and provide transaction data to the feds on some firearm purchases as a way of tracking people who the government suspects might be planning mass shootings.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s (D–Va.) “Gun Violence Prevention Through Financial Intelligence Act” would require the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to “request information from financial institutions for the purpose of developing an advisory about the identification and reporting of suspicious activity.” The bill’s aim is to identify a consistent purchasing pattern among people who buy firearms and firearm accessories in order to conduct “lone wolf acts of terror” and expose how the firearms market in the United States is exploited by would-be mass shooters.

“Banks, credit card companies, and retailers have unique insight into the behavior and purchasing patterns that can help identify and prevent mass shootings,” Wexton explained in a statement. “The red flags are there—someone just needs to be paying attention.”

The bill comes after a report argued that in more than half of all mass shootings that resulted in 10 or more deaths, the killer used a credit card to purchase their weapon.

Of course, a lot of people use credit cards to buy guns. Guns are expensive and it’s often easier to finance a new firearm purchase via a credit card.

Plus, past experience suggests that it just won’t work.

Wexton’s bill assumes it’s possible to tell who is a threat based on tracking credit card activity. Unfortunately, government’s past attempts to identify “red flags” by analyzing transaction data has resulted in, as Reason‘s Elizabeth Nolan Brown puts it, banks “cast[ing] as wide a net as possible,” when deciding what activity gets reported. Banks fear the consequences of being accused of not doing enough to comply with reporting laws and requests. Brown notes that banks’ attempts to monitor customers’ transaction data in order to identify human traffickers for the government have resulted in the creation of an extremely broad definition of what constitutes suspicious activity, including things like running up large grocery bills and renting DVDs in bulk.

Make no mistake, this will be no different.

It should be noted that often these killers buy their guns a short time before their killing spree, but there’s often very little other behavior to be seen. The article notes that the Aurora theater shooter bought all manner of items shortly before his attack, but one would likely be hardpressed to find a regular pattern of such among mass shooters.

Instead, you find the purchase of a firearm and some ammunition…much like many of us make on a regular basis. Exercising a constitutional right such as the right to keep and bear arms shouldn’t constitute suspicious behavior, but it likely would under Wexton’s bill.

Further, I find the original report interesting. After all, the definition for a mass shooting is usually just four people killed in a single event. Why did the author use 10 as his cutoff?

To be sure, 10 deaths does raise the tragedy of an event a considerable degree, but it also creates a whole lot of shootings that may not conform to the supposed pattern. For example, a number of school shootings are perpetrated with stolen weapons, where a credit card information and tracking is useless.

Basically, if this bill passes, it will make life more difficult for law-abiding gun owners while not actually doing jack squat to combat mass shootings.

Then again, isn’t that about all Congress wants to consider these days anyway?