In the wake of the Parkland high school shooting, Citibank has stepped into the breach as the US government once more drags its feet on legislating gun control. With popular support for such laws inching up a few points as it does in the wake of every mass shooting and media calls for cracking down on weapons sales rising to a fever pitch, our representatives on Capitol Hill (with the exception of opportunistic scumbag Rick Scott of Florida, so desperate to cling to his governorship he'll vote for anything that moves) hemmed and hawed about enacting more stringent regulation. Enter Citibank CEO Michael Corbat, boldly going where no corporation has gone before…
Citibank announced this week that it will “require new retail sector clients to adhere to these best practices: (1) they don’t sell firearms to someone who hasn’t passed a background check, (2) they restrict the sale of firearms for individuals under 21 years of age, and (3) they don’t sell bump stocks or high-capacity magazines.” At face value, this decree is innocuous, especially as it applies only to “new” clients and not Citi’s existing stable, which includes few firearms manufacturers or retailers anyway. The measures would have no real impact on the availability of guns or the ease with which they can be used in the commission of mass shootings - on the surface, it is a pure PR stunt.
Admitting they lack the technology or legal ability to track gun purchases at the payment-processing level, however, Citi optimistically noted that “the industry [is] discussing the possibility” of developing such privacy-invading technology so that it can terminate business relationships with companies who violate this policy. This is Citi staking its claim to the mechanics of legislation, the first tentative step down the fabled slippery slope to fascism. When corporations make and enforce the laws, they’ve successfully privatized government, and the idea of representative democracy finally limps the rest of the way to the dustbin of American history. There’s no turning back from that point - a point at which Americans will need all the guns they can get. Power usurped is not willingly relinquished.
As Americans, we understand - whether or not we admit it - that our country is run by an alliance of wealthy corporate interests and the politicians they pay to legislate in their favor. If you’re too young to remember Citizens United, every election since then should have hammered that point home. The power of the Koch Brothers, ALEC, George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, and their coterie of slimy supervillains is unequalled by any elected representative. Nevertheless, we cling to the illusion of freedom and electoral choice, operating under the assumption that our corporate overlords are benevolent - or at least that they don’t want the bad PR of mowing down citizens in the streets. This faith is proving to be misplaced.
Earlier this month Stephon Clark was gunned down in his own back yard for the unspeakable crime of climbing over a fence. Police claimed they thought he was behind a string of car break-ins in the area, but even if they believed they had their man, breaking into cars is not a capital crime and shooting first and asking questions later is not a valid response. According to killedbypolice.net, cops have killed over 300 civilians this year - a figure that is admittedly difficult to pinpoint due to the reluctance of police departments to correctly classify officer-involved fatalities and the difficulty of separating “justified” shootings from the rest. Mass shootings have killed 53. Many who support gun control, especially on the Left, also protest police violence. Do they actually believe that disarming their fellow citizens will transform the uniformed sociopaths who murdered Clark (and Gurley, and Garner, and Rice, and Bland, and Shaver, AND SO ON) into peaceful sheepdogs herding their wayward flock toward the straight-and-narrow?
Whether or not you agree with the idea that curtailing gun sales will cure the American people of their propensity for mass shootings, the fact remains that IF we are indeed a representative democracy, in which the people have some say in electing their government which then passes laws intended to benefit those people in some way, Citibank has NO BUSINESS butting into that process. No one elected Michael Corbat to the position of chief moral officer. Americans have been brainwashed to treat the rights of corporations in the so-called Free Market as superior to their own and defer to their corporate masters. We abase ourselves before financial institutions that have done nothing but abuse us to the best of their capability - are we really going to hand them even more of that capability?
The idea of one of the prime movers in 2008’s financial collapse nakedly usurping legislative power should be repulsive to anyone. Whether or not you support gun control, banning semi-automatic weapons, or any other modification to the Second Amendment, the fact remains that this is a corporation attempting to restrict the freedoms of private citizens, a corporation responsible for exponentially more suffering than any firearms retailer. Lest we forget, Citibank received billions of dollars in the TARP bailout after bankrupting itself gambling on mortgage-backed securities comprised of subprime loans it knowingly sold to people who couldn’t afford them. Millions of people lost their houses, their savings, their futures in the 2008 crash. Ten years later, many have not recovered, while Citi posts record profits every year and pays its executives more in bonuses than many of us will see in our entire lives. These are not the people we want serving as our moral compass.
Perhaps receiving such huge sums in government bailout funds gave Citi the idea that they ARE the government. Certainly the revolving door has spun faster there than at any other financial institution, with Peter Orszag, Michael Froman, Jack Lew, and of course Robert Rubin - arguably the architect of the 2008 crisis, who not only loosened financial regulations while serving as Treasury Secretary under Clinton but then pushed Citi to increase its appetite for risky investments - ping-ponging from private to public sector cashing huge checks along the way. Big banks actually reward their senior executives for securing employment in government, understanding that this is the quickest route to a friendlier regulatory climate. Why bother loosening regulations, though, when you can just make them yourself?
Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times published an article a few days after Parkland calling on banks to “set new rules” to restrict gun sales, excitedly citing the precedent of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup’s recent ban on purchasing cryptocurrencies, a “completely legal” product. Earlier this month, he called for “big investors” to use their financial stakes in companies to force them to change their business practices in the direction of gun control. Less than a month later, Citibank made their big announcement. This week, former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens called for the wholesale repeal of the Second Amendment, a sentiment that has been echoed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, among other prominent politicians. This is a coordinated effort by the propagandists, the purse, and the puppets of the ruling class to deprive ordinary citizens of one of the few rights they have left. At last weekend’s March For Our Lives rally, Parkland student Delaney Tarr promised “When they give us that inch, that bump stock ban, we will take a mile.” Americans would be foolish to believe that this movement will end with the restriction of AR-15 sales to those over the age of 21 (unless they’re in the military, then they get all the “assault” weapons they want).
In the much-exalted Free Market, surely companies who disagree with Citi’s new policy can take their business elsewhere? Politico, approving of Citi's unprecedented power grab, referred to them as the “first financial institution” to restrict firearms sales - implying that others will follow suit, a likely assumption given the ideological uniformity of the big banks. Citi may have been chosen to test the waters, but Sorkin in a followup article enthused that “virtually all the major banks” and credit card companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Visa, and MasterCard, have now formed working groups to formulate their own responses to “the issue.” Citi itself in its press release expressed a desire to “convene those in the financial services industry and other stakeholders to tackle these challenges together and see what we can do.” Sorkin, for his part, suggested several dystopian measures to “help” the financial industry legislate its ideas, including “geofencing” gun shows to keep out under-21 buyers. Yes, customers can move to another bank, but not for long.
Citi is theoretically a private corporation, and one might argue that they have the right to make what policies they wish, as do Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods and other corporations that have restricted firearms sales in one way or another. But Walmart and Dick’s have never received hundreds of billions of dollars in interest-free loans from the US government, nor are they bristling with ex- (and future) government officials (though Walmart is owned by one of the richest and most powerful families in the country and has considerable political sway in its own right; their move to ban AR-15 sales in 2015 was intended as an example for the rest of the sporting goods industry to emulate, and three years later Dick’s has finally followed in their footsteps). The partial-nationalization and myriad government connections of Citibank and its financial-industry peers place them in a unique position to enact unpopular legislation in all but the most literal sense. The move is an experiment to see how much of the corporate-government fascist leviathan can be revealed without sparking a popular revolution. So far, so apathetic.
Polls suggest that a plurality of Americans continue to disapprove of gun control measures that go beyond background checks. Support peaks briefly after each mass shooting but ebbs as the event recedes into memory. With a government by the corporations, for the corporations, we are closer to open tyranny than at any point in our country’s history. Legal rights once taken for granted have been whittled away; the Fourth Amendment was sacrificed on the twin altars of Homeland Security and the War on Drugs, while the First Amendment hangs perilously in the balance as self-appointed thought police on both Right and Left redefine the limits of acceptable discourse and monopolistic content platforms blacklist users who deviate from that discourse. Why should we volunteer to give up the Second?
Our jingoistic, war-worshiping culture, where more than half of every tax dollar goes to fund the bloated military-industrial complex, looms large over every mass shooting. It’s tiresome at this point to have to remind people that murder is illegal; that outlawing guns will not stop criminals from committing crimes; that guns are already bought and sold illegally on the streets of every American city. One need only bring up little historical footnotes like the War on Drugs for examples of how prohibition rarely has the desired effect. The weapon does not make the killer, and restricting civilian access to firearms will not make our culture appreciably less violent. In 2015, police killed more people in 24 days than in the entire United Kingdom in 24 years. Mass shootings are only one side of a multi-faceted problem. More importantly, legislating gun control is the purview of government. Participants in the March For Our Lives should be wary of throwing their lot in with the corporate state. Their movement has power and momentum, and may yet succeed in convincing a majority of Americans that our country needs stronger gun control laws - in which case they could be passed through the normal channels instead of smuggled in under the aegis of corporate social responsibility.
It is my hope that Citibank’s attempt to step into the government’s shoes will galvanize Americans to begin standing up to their oppressors and ripping out the throats of the ruling class; however, I realize Citi customers are unlikely shock troops for any revolution, and even calling for them to withdraw their funds and deposit them in some less-fascist bank is a tall order. Still, any Citi customer with a spine, or who cares about the unholy alliance between corporate and governmental power, should take their business elsewhere and call on their friends and family to do the same. Citi’s gesture, while mediagenic and perfectly in line with the popular narrative that “enough is enough” regarding gun violence, is more disturbing than any mass shooting in what it represents. This is a naked power grab by the corporatocracy as it seeks to dissolve the few remaining checks on its power, allowing the rabid beast of neoliberal capitalism to run roughshod over the people.