There are only a few truly prestigious national media outlets left these days. Names that are known across the land and command influence over and the undying respect of…a small number of fellow media members, self-proclaimed intellectual elites and government functionaries who occupy two relatively thin layers of urban centers on both coasts.
Of the remaining top-shelf purveyors of Big Time Journalism, none is more respected by those on the upper west side or inside the beltway than the New York Times. Which is why The Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin has spent months…months…uncovering a seldom-seen, seedy underside of the retail gun business.
The New York Times reviewed hundreds of documents including police reports, bank records and investigator notes from a decade of mass shootings. Many of the killers built their stockpiles of high-powered weapons with the convenience of credit. No one was watching.
That’s right…Sorkin unearthed the fact that people buy things with credit cards. And some of those things are guns.
Sorkin, of course, focuses on the fact that an infinitesimal minority of those who buy firearms with credit cards go on to commit heinous crimes. Here’s what he found out about the Pulse nightclub shooter:
Two days before Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 more at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, he went on Google and typed “Credit card unusual spending.”
Mr. Mateen had opened six new credit card accounts — including a Mastercard, an American Express card and three Visa cards — over the previous eight months. Twelve days before the shooting, he began a $26,532 buying spree: a Sig Sauer MCX .223-caliber rifle, a Glock 17 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, several large magazines, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a $7,500 ring for his wife that he bought on a jewelry store card. His average spending before that, on his only card, was $1,500 a month.
Sorkin’s obvious implication is that someone — namely credit card companies — should be monitoring what you’re buying and alert authorities when your spending habits look…unusual.
A New York Times examination of mass shootings since the Virginia Tech attack in 2007 reveals how credit cards have become a crucial part of the planning of these massacres. There have been 13 shootings that killed 10 or more people in the last decade, and in at least eight of them, the killers financed their attacks using credit cards. Some used credit to acquire firearms they could not otherwise have afforded.
Those eight shootings killed 217 people. The investigations undertaken in their aftermath uncovered a rich trove of information about the killers’ spending. There were plenty of red flags, if only someone were able to look for them, law enforcement experts say.
Sorkin, and surely all of his bien pensant readers, wants to see the big credit card processors keep a much closer eye on how you’re spending our hard-earned money. But Visa and Mastercard don’t seem to want any part of that job.
“We do not believe Visa should be in the position of setting restrictions on the sale of lawful goods or services,” said Amanda Pires, a Visa spokeswoman. “Our role in commerce is to efficiently process, protect and settle all legal payments. Asking Visa or other payment networks to arbitrate what legal goods can be purchased sets a dangerous precedent.”
A spokesman for Mastercard echoed that sentiment, emphasizing its protection of “cardholders’ independence” and the “privacy of their own purchasing decisions.”
But the financial industry is uniquely positioned to see, if it chose to do so, a potential killer’s behavior in a way that retailers, law enforcement officials, concerned family members or mental health professionals cannot.
The credit card processors may not want to get involved in policing your spending, but oh-so-concerned hacks like Sorkin think otherwise. Besides, it’s not as if there’s no precedent for financial institution reporting requirements.
Banks are required to report transactions of $10,000 or more by a single person, even if those transactions are legal. And after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the government enacted even stricter rules under the Patriot Act: Banks must file so-called Suspicious Activity Reports for transactions involving more than $5,000 that the financial institution “has reason to suspect” are part of a plan to “violate or evade any federal law.”
You know who else loves to use the power of banks and insurance companies to squeeze firearms manufacturers and those who advocate for gun rights? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his state insurance commissioner, that’s who.
Governor Soprano has already admitted that he put the screws to financial firms in New York to get them to stop doing business with the NRA. Why not add another demand that they start monitoring each purchase you make at Brownells, Cabela’s, Aero Precision, Lucky Gunner or your local gun store?
Jared L. Loughner had the Chase Visa he used to buy a 9-millimeter Glock handgun in the pocket of his jeans when he shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head outside a Tucson supermarket on Jan. 8, 2011. She survived, but six people died.
“There are a lot of steps that credit card companies can take that could prevent some of the tragic gun violence in the country,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “For companies to say they can’t solve the entire problem and therefore shouldn’t take any steps is just blindly ignoring what they can contribute to the solution.”
Elected officials could force the financial system to act.
They certainly could. And will no doubt try as part of the continuing effort to enlist more companies in their corporate gun control push.
In order to avoid the all-seeing eye of Big Brother, more gun buyers would then increasingly procure their firearms with cash from local gun stores or individuals in private sales. A law requiring credit card processors to report gun-related purchases would take a bite out of online sellers of guns and related gear like Bud’s, Bass Pro, Gunbroker and Armslist.
Someone like Sorkin and Governor Soprano, however, would see that very much as a feature, not a bug.