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Is Your Bank Profiting From Gun Violence?

A coalition of activists is challenging the financial industry’s ties to the gun industry.

A coalition of activists is challenging the financial industry's ties to the gun industry.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a figure in December that capped what felt like a particularly violent year: nearly 40,000 people died as a result of guns in the United States in 2017, more than any year since at least 1968. As activists look for new ways to end what’s always seemed like a intractable problem, one coalition suggests targeting some of the companies profiting off gun violence in the first place.

The Is Your Bank Loaded? campaign stems from a coalition of groups, including Guns Down America, the American Federation of Teachers, and Color of Change. They’ve created a rubric to judge banks by their connections to the gun industry and its lobby, as well as the politicians that do its bidding.

The report’s authors looked through media archives, campaign finance reports, and SEC filings from 2016 to 2018 to determine the connections of the top 15 consumer banks with the gun industry and its friends. They gave banks points based on a few different categories — whether or not they helped finance the gun industry, their ties to policy groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America, and their contributions to lawmakers also backed by the NRA. The report authors also offered up points to banks that had made efforts to break ties with the gun industry.

By those standards, six of the 15 banks judged — BB&T, Wells Fargo, US Bank, TD Bank, PNC, and Chase — received a failing grade. Each of those banks had at least $200 million in financing for the gun industry, with TD Bank topping the list at $633 million. The highest score offered was a B.

Some of the banks listed have already responded to past questioning about their ties. Citigroup, the highest-rated bank on the list, made headlines last year when it announced restrictions on gun sales from its business partners. Others have opted to keep their damage control firmly in the realm of rhetoric.

BB&T and Wells Fargo, the two banks lowest on the list, gave comments to Bloomberg that deferred to legislators to address gun violence. “At BB&T, we’re deeply concerned with the increasing amount of gun violence in our schools and communities,” the bank emailed Bloomberg. “We believe our country’s leaders at the state and federal levels should be fully engaged on this issue and find ways to reduce violence in our country. As always, we’re fully supportive of everyone’s voice being heard as part of the political process.” According to Is Your Bank Loaded? BB&T gave more than $108,000 to the NRA’s top lawmakers.

Wells Fargo had a similar response. “Schools and communities should be safer from gun violence, but changes to gun laws and regulations should be determined through a legislative process that gives the American public an opportunity to participate and not be arbitrarily set by a bank,” the bank told Bloomberg. They’ve donated at least $92,000 to the top NRA-backed lawmakers, according to the report.

Targeting banks offers activists a chance to address some of the structural causes of gun violence, sidestepping some of the carceral alternatives that target people of color while letting wealthy gun manufacturers thrive. In addition to funneling money straight towards the gun industry, banks are also at the heart of the inequality that helps drive our gun violence crisis.

As UCLA Professor Mark S. Kaplan told TalkPoverty last year, limiting gun violence is akin to harm reduction. “What guns do to a society that is inherently violent—and we are a violent society—is that it lethalizes the violence,” according to Kaplan. Inequality is the bedrock of that violence, Kaplan says, and removing the guns is a good first step in a more comprehensive plan to tackle structural inequalities.

Is Your Bank Loaded? is a welcome addition to a movement demanding more from banks that profit from harmful policies, whether they’re financing private prisons or fossil fuels. To make our world more equal — and to rid it of gun violence — we can’t let banks continue to make money off the suffering of our communities.

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