Citibank's gun policy could serve other banks

Citibank’s new commercial firearms policy could serve as a template for other financial entities to restrict gun sales by clients, argued business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

In his New York Times op-ed, Sorkin examined how Citi took the initiative and identified obstacles other banks must consider if they follow suit.

“With the exception of Citi, most financial institutions are still grappling with how to properly carry out a plan that is both enforceable and does not encroach on the rights of its customers,” Sorkin wrote.

For the latest of Sorkin’s writings about what the business world could do when Congress won’t act, he spoke with Citi’s chief executive, Michael Corbat, about what led Citi to set rules for gun sellers wanting to do business with the bank.

Citi’s policy changes “to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands” include requiring background checks, restricting sales for buyers under 21, and banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. And, the company plans on enforcing those policies with “due diligence conversations” with clients.

“There is an important nuance here,” Corbat said as he explained Citi was very careful with how it worded the limitations and purposely left some of its policy ambiguous so it could later evolve and accommodate potential exceptions.

Citi decided on the age restriction, for example, because individuals ages 18 to 20 commit homicides using guns at a rate that’s four times higher than for those over 21, Sorkin explained, citing gun violence research. But, Corbat said the age restriction could be waived if a person had military training or had taken a hunter safety course.

Last week’s announcement by Citi was the latest development in the corporate backlash influenced by a wave of activism inspired by February’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Citi joined multiple retailers with the new policies while other banks and investment groups said they would review their relationships with gun businesses.

Although there was a modest attempt by federal lawmakers to consider new gun policies, many posed in the wake of the Parkland shooting have been abandoned. However, local and state officials have been considering the measures as well. Florida, for instance, has long been understood to be a pro-gun state, adopted the age restriction.

The policy change has garnered a mixed bag of reactions as Corbat explained, adding they expected it. But “the positives have significantly outweighed the negatives,” he said.

Supporters include the head of the California State Teachers’ Retirement Board, Harry Keiley, who said on behalf of the board, “we applaud the stellar corporate leadership.” CalSTRS is one of the many public funds looking to divest from the gun industry.

“Citigroup’s actions serve to influence the efforts to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands,” Keiley said. “By modeling best practices and demonstrating actionable steps that others can take, Citigroup is at the forefront in trying to bring about change, and end ‘the cycle of tragedy and inaction.’

Gun control groups also applauded the move. “The public overwhelmingly supports common-sense measures to keep us safe, and the policies announced by Citigroup reflect the values of their customers and all Americans,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

The gun industry disagrees with Citi’s decision and policies. The industry’s trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, called the move “virtue signaling” and argued that they “do nothing to add to public safety and, in fact, may put vulnerable Americans at greater risk to be victims of crime.”

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