While Democratic Representatives are attempting to do the right thing, House Republicans continue to block a vote on sensible gun control, while each day brings new horrors from preventable gun deaths. Rather than standing by for an intractable Congress, my office is taking the fight for gun control to the next frontier, looking beyond gun manufacturers to take on their bankrollers.
Financial resources are the pressure points of the gun industry. Last week, my office demanded that BB&T, Berkshire Bank, Citizens Financial Group, People’s United Bank, Regions Financial Corp, and TD Bank stop supplying loans to gun manufacturers. These six banks loaned Sig Sauer, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the world, $178 million last December – within weeks of the San Bernardino mass shooting. Sig Sauer’s handiwork, the Sig Sauer MCX, was most recently responsible for the slaughter of 49 people in Orlando.
Assault weapons enable those with hateful or bigoted intentions to take life and death into their own hands and to inflict maximum damage. National attention lingers on each mass shooting, but we also often forget that gun violence occurs every day on our streets, stealing lives, often those of young people or just bystanders caught in the spray of an assault weapon.
The same weekend that 49 people were brutally slaughtered at Pulse nightclub at Orlando, four people were shot and killed within six hours in New York City – one of whom was a 29-year-old mother who took a round of bullets while shielding her three children, with her own mother looking on. Every day in the United States, an average of 289 lives are stolen by gun violence.
We have been taking action over the past year to ensure that the fight for gun control is not stymied by federal passivity. Calling for divestment is one step of many that my office has taken to free New York City of its direct and indirect involvement with the gun industry. In December 2015, I called out TD Bank for loaning $300 million to Smith & Wesson, the gun maker of the weapons used in Sandy Hook, Aurora, and San Bernardino.
My office also put pressure on city government to stand up to the gun industry. Through local action, we can send a clear message that our values will not be compromised and that gun control will be consistently supported in all areas of city and state life. In July 2015, as a trustee on the New York City Employee Retirement System (NYCERS), I proposed that all five boards of NYCERs divest from gun retailers. NYCERs overwhelmingly approved to begin the process of divesting.
With public pressure mounted on gun retailers, Walmart decided to stop selling AR-15s in stores the following month. Within a very short span of time, we were able to effect tremendous change. But clearly, we still have a long way to go.
Fifty seven percent of Americans support a universal ban on assault weapons and yet millions of account holders at these six banks are unknowingly supporting the very companies that produce these guns.
Our demands that financial institutions end their support of gun manufacturers is a way of shining a spotlight on the otherwise hidden, deep entrenchment of the gun industry in our day-to-day lives. Only once the depths of the problem are surfaced, can we truly kill it at its roots.
The NRA might be able to coax certain members of Congress into shirking from their public and moral obligations. But it is no match for the full pressure of resounding and sustained public outcry, which will not be silent until assault weapons are banned from our streets.
Letitia James is the Public Advocate for the City of New York.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty