Let’s be honest. If you own guns or you’re a gun-rights supporter, and if you’re concerned about government restrictions on your Second Amendment rights, the future looks bright. The elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court may well represent the death knell for draconian forms of gun control — including bans on so-called “assault weapons” and bans on standard-capacity magazines in semi-automatic pistols and rifles.
Moreover, meaningful federal gun control has been blocked for a generation, and red-state legislatures are moving almost uniformly to liberalize state gun laws. Witness, for example, the steady spread of “constitutional carry” in red states across the land.
But another threat looms, one that can stretch across the entire American landscape, is immune to the filibuster, and is largely sheltered from judicial review. It’s a threat that can choke off financing for the gun industry, stifle speech about guns, and lock the gun-rights community into offline (and small online) ghettos that restrict their ability to communicate.
So, what’s happening? Titans of American banking and communication are taking steps to restrict the use of their funds or platforms by gun makers, gun-rights advocates, and others. The threat is just now emerging, but it may be as great a danger to gun rights as it is to the culture of free speech in this nation, and indeed the two are linked.
A short, non-exclusive survey should help paint the picture. Citigroup struck one of the first blows, taking action in March:
Citigroup is setting restrictions on the sale of firearms by its business customers, making it the first Wall Street bank to take a stance in the divisive nationwide gun control debate.
The new policy, announced Thursday, prohibits the sale of firearms to customers who have not passed a background check or who are younger than 21. It also bars the sale of bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. It would apply to clients who offer credit cards backed by Citigroup or borrow money, use banking services or raise capital through the company.
Not to be outdone, Bank of America has acted against assault weapons. Here’s the beginning of a New York Times story from April:
Bank of America will stop lending money to gun manufacturers that make military-inspired firearms for civilian use, such as the AR-15-style rifles that have been used in multiple mass shootings, a company executive said Tuesday.
While the banks’ actions apply to the manufacture and sale of firearms, there are considerable unfolding online threats to speech about guns. Consider the actions of these titans of tech:
Facebook has recently restricted any links to a website called codeisfreespeech.com, which contains downloadable plans for a number of entirely legal firearms, including the 3D-printable firearms at the heart of the lingering Obama-era case against Cody Wilson. The site includes plans for weapons such as the Colt 1911, a weapon so common and so basic that its plans date back to, well, 1911 (actually before). You can even buy the plans on a t-shirt.
YouTube has its own restrictions on speech about firearms and prohibits any content that “intends to sell” firearms or provides instructions on “manufacturing a firearm.” The latter prohibition is broad enough to (if YouTube wishes) include information on assembling a firearm from its component parts — a necessary part of firearm cleaning and maintenance.
Reddit has banned certain gun forums and updated its policies to forbid using Reddit to “solicit or facilitate” (extremely broad terms) transactions or gifts involving firearms. Its policy applies to gun sales, drug sales, prostitution, stolen goods, personal information, and counterfeit official documents. One of those things is not like the other. The keeping and bearing of firearms is an explicit, enumerated constitutional right. The rest of the list largely deals with criminal activity.
The list just keeps going. Amazon Web Services has reportedly removed codeisfreespeech.com from its web servers, and Shopify just updated its free-speech policies to deny space for “the kind of products intended to harm.” It also placed on its “restricted items list” all semi-automatic weapons packaged with detachable magazines “capable of accepting more than 10 rounds.” It also reportedly deleted the accounts of a number of weapons retailers, including Spike’s Tactical and Franklin Armory.
Let’s keep in mind that these actions represent not the culmination of a gun-control campaign but the front edge of a wave of corporate censorship and suppression. As I’ve written before, in an age of online outrage, you can find angry mobs on both sides of virtually any issue, so in almost every case it’s the internal mob that matters. Tech executives at giant multinational companies care more about the opinions of their peers and colleagues than they care about any given Twitter trend or news cycle. When companies reach a certain size, the ability of angry conservatives to affect the market is limited. After all, Facebook’s main competitor is arguably Instagram, and Facebook owns Instagram.
Earlier today I spoke at length to the Washington Free Beacon’s Stephen Gutowski, perhaps the Internet’s best one-stop journalistic shop not just for technical expertise on firearms but also for national trends in gun control. He’s been diligently covering the recent trend of increasing corporate restrictions. He noted that the corporate actions have been “more aggressive than what we’ve seen with Alex Jones,” with a fraction of the attention.
Simply put, that has to change. Few American communities (including the pro-life community) are better organized and more mobilizable than the gun-rights community, and it’s time to shine at least as bright a spotlight on corporate gun control as the one that illuminates governmental gun restrictions, the more traditional focus of the NRA. But not even the mighty NRA can generally force corporations to change course in the absence of government intervention. Corporations are entities that possess their own constitutional rights. Yet the NRA can seek to inform and persuade. Gun-rights proponents can invest in alternative platforms. Young conservatives can and should seek career paths in tech and other key industries to break up the monoculture.
In other words, while doing our best to make arguments in the here and now, it’s imperative for gun-rights proponents to play the corporate long game, just as they did in their remarkably successful 30-year campaign to liberalize gun laws. The ability to preserve a functioning gun industry and the free flow of information about firearms may well depend on it. Corporations have entered the fight, and gun-rights supporters are mainly on the outside, looking in.
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