The Corner

Politics & Policy

Credit-Card Companies Can’t Stop Mass Shootings

A Mastercard logo on a credit card, August 30, 2017. (Thomas White/REUTERS)

One of the things that really pushes my fringe-libertarian, move-to-Idaho, shoebox-full-of-Swiss-francs-and-a-.45 buttons is the progressive project to use the financial system to secure political goals that the Left cannot achieve through ordinary democratic means or because of such inconveniences as the Bill of Rights. The New York Times is attempting to revive one of those projects today with an essay arguing that the credit-card business should be used as a political tool for gun control.

Here’s the big news from the Times: People sometimes use credit cards to pay for the things they buy. Sometimes, they buy guns. Some of the people who buy guns sometimes use credit cards to pay for them. And some of the people who buy guns and use credit cards to pay for them commit crimes with those guns.

Ergo . . . ?

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.

The Times report touched on one of my least-favorite contemporary political themes: The fact that U.S. law-enforcement agencies will look for any excuse to not do their damned jobs:

Banks will complain this is the government’s job and it’s not our job, but you know what? They are the only ones with the ability to do this,” said Kevin Sullivan, a former New York Police fraud investigator who consults with banks as president of the Anti-Money Laundering Training Academy.

The share of terrorists and mass shooters who were previously known to law enforcement and other public agencies before their crimes is quite high. In some cases, members of their family were begging police to do something. Some police are heroes, some are villains, but all of them are government employees working in public-sector bureaucracies, with all that involves. Police work is a job for police — nerds working in the back of the shop at America’s banks and credit-card processors are not going to do their jobs for them.

There is no Colin Laney who is going to spare us from the trouble of doing ordinary police work.

Colin Laney is a character from a William Gibson novel, Idoru, who has a kind of quasi-psychic gift for recognizing non-obvious relationships in vast quantities of data, which gives him kind of Minority Report-style precognition. (In the story, he foresees the suicide of a man involved in a celebrity scandal.) But we do not really have those in the real world. In the real world, we have psychiatrists unsuccessfully trying to have future mass shooters involuntarily committed while they are planning their atrocities and future terrorists who are well-known to authorities who do almost nothing in response. And, of course, the great majority of murders are not part of terrorist attacks or crazy-white-boys-in-suburbia school shootings: Most murders are part of much more prosaic criminal activity — and, in those cases, the killers are typically quite well-known to police, with most of them having prior police records. A large share of the killers in U.S. homicides have prior histories of violent crime and weapons violations — and many of the latter are not prosecuted.

The idea that some combination of algorithm-managing geeks in the financial institutions and $9-an-hour clerks at sporting-goods stores are going to do the work that the nation’s splendidly funded law-enforcement and intelligence agencies fail to do is laughable — and what’s even more laughable is that any attempt to deputize them to do this would result in anything other than the crudest and most invasive kind of regulatory buffoonery imaginable.

There is a sneaky totalitarian tendency among progressives, who look for vulnerable pressure points to exploit for political ends. If the First Amendment prevents you from censoring political speech you don’t like, then pretend that it’s a “campaign finance” issue and suppress it that way, instead. If you dislike the political activities of a certain corporation, then treat differences of opinion regarding policy questions as a question of fraud, as in the case of the oil companies and their criticism of global-warming hysteria. If you can’t regulate away gun rights, then regulate away the financial means of realizing those rights — which, of course, is where this is heading — Andrew Ross Sorkin made the case for using credit-card companies as proxy police in the New York Times in February. The effort to suppress the political activism of the NRA by leaning on its insurance providers was partly successful.

Maybe a little Bitcoin isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe you are paranoid: But are you paranoid enough?

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