If It’s Good for Walmart . . .
Democrats seek corporate support for a universal background check for gun owners.


Charles C. W. Cooke

Congress these days is such a drag. Despite the president’s glorious return to his perch at the top of the executive branch, the legislature remains full of men and women who stubbornly persevere with such retrogressive notions as legislative independence and local representation. For a president with a second-term agenda that is too vital for even the slightest pause, that’s a royal pain in the crown.

Trouble is, it’s rather hard to bypass Congress with any regularity without inviting the opprobrium of the court system or of the American public — or, preferably, of both. What, then, to do?

Recruit business to your side, naturally. Take the Obama administration’s proposal for a universal background check for gun owners, the one among the president’s compendium of stale exhortations that has the best hope of passing Congress. This could be a boon to big retailers such as Walmart, because it would add an obstacle to second-hand gun sales and open up a new industry in federally approved third-party background checks. Obama knows this, which is why he may ask the vice president to consider “rallying support from Wal-Mart and other gun retailers for measures that would benefit their businesses.” Government’s bypassing public debates about fundamental liberties by increasing the profits of giant corporations has never sounded so rebellious.

This style is popular this month. Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s intention to host a fundraiser for Chris Christie was met with a hissy fit from the Democratic Governors Association, which invited other outraged Americans to sign a petition that called on Zuckerberg “to cancel.” Pray, why? What possible purchase on the political preferences of a private citizen does the DGA believe it should have? They would never confess as much, but hiding at the back of the collective mind of the Democratic Governors Association was the tenebrous hope that Zuckerberg was corruptible. What a delicious irony, the sharper among them might have mused, if the pressure spread from the ground up to Facebook’s jittery shareholders via Zuckerberg’s own creation. The world’s first e-petition of attainder.

Such antics have a long and venerable tradition, for from such routes do progressives often profit. Bill Sher correctly identified the importance of corporatism to the prospects of the American Left in a New York Times op-ed last year. Obamacare, Sher observed, was made possible because, unlike a Jimmy Carter, “Mr. Obama views corporate power as a force to bargain with, not an enemy to vanquish.” Sher continued: “The necessity of corporate support for, or at least acquiescence to, liberal policies . . . is not a new development in the history of American liberalism. Indeed it has been one of its hallmarks.” FDR and LBJ nodded along in their corporate box.

As the antagonists of civil liberty consider police agreement to be a trump card in any dispute, interventionism’s acolytes have a tendency to boast that “even the industry” agrees with them. But there will always be an industry that agrees with government intrusion — or, at least, that can be made to. Gun manufacturers were on board with the 1968 Gun Control Act because it did something, as Don B. Kates Jr. has argued, that they “had been impotently urging for decades”: It damaged the competition. By restricting the sale by mail of cheap foreign and U.S. military surplus weapons — domestic manufacturers could not match the low prices — the act delivered them hundreds of thousands of new customers without their having to do so much as reload.

If you can’t appeal to the lawyers, then squeeze the accountants. On Friday, Politico recorded that the well-connected Rahm Emanuel was “turning up the pressure” on the gun lobby. Was he going to stump for gun control? Form a task force? Meet with recalcitrant members of Congress? No — nothing that democratic from the mayor of Chicago. Instead, Emanuel sought to put pressure “on banks that do business with firearms manufacturers” — namely, TD Bank and Bank of America. Highlighting a rare, perhaps even unique, instance in which someone involved in Chicago’s politics suggested turning off the money spigot, Emanuel urged these two private institutions to withdraw their lines of credit to Smith and Wesson and Sturm, Ruger if those companies didn’t get on board with the president’s proposals.

“I ask you,” Emanuel wrote to TD Bank, “to use your influence to push [these companies] to find common ground with the vast majority of Americans who support a military weapons and ammunition ban and comprehensive background checks.”

“Ask,” one supposes, is used here in that curious, Twilight Zone manner that the president favors; as in, we will “ask the rich to pay a little more in taxes.” Nice banks you’ve got there, Emanuel seemed to be saying, a man who once sent a pollster a rotting fish as a warning and who boasts “the Godfather” among his nicknames. Would be a shame if anything were to happen to them. The message from the peace-loving gun-control crowd in general is: Better just play along with the president and nobody gets hurt. Nobody, that is, except Congress, the people, the rule of law, transparency, smaller players in the firearms industry, public debate, the independence of the banks . . . 

So, too, the English language. Emanuel told Bank of America that “investors will no longer financially support companies that support gun violence.” One can only presume that is true. Find me a company that “supports gun violence” and I shall join the police in leading the divestment charge. In the meantime, however, perhaps the various members of our elite class might stick to trying to change the law, resisting the temptation to bully private companies and private citizens into obeying phantom principles that, much to their irritation, they can’t get past the little people.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.