Opinion

The Ghosts of Obama’s Operation Choke Point

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Posted: Sep 15, 2018 12:01 AM
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The Ghosts of Obama’s Operation Choke Point

The Constitution stands as a bulwark against the widest affronts to individual rights.  Whenever government powers are expanded, individual rights are diminished, and it is the Constitution, protecting us from our own best intentions, that is supposed to stand in the way of such expansions of government power. This is aggravating to some—people who get frustrated with the Constitution’s “arcane” views on free speech or property rights—or the rights to self-defense and to keep and bear arms, and they work hard at ways to try and sidestep the Constitution’s protections.

These are the same kind of people who believe the 2nd Amendment ought to be repealed, or, worse, think the entire US Constitution ought to be scrapped and completely re-written.  But they know that this is anathema to most Americans.  What then ensues are the myriad attempts to chip away at those principles—or, worse, clandestine attempts to go-around the Constitution entirely.  Progressives have gone to great lengths to find creative ways to frustrate the twin concepts of the rights to self-defense and the right to keep and bear arms. 

Exorbitant taxes on ammunition, for instance, are one way to gut the 2nd, by making ammunition too expensive for the average firearm owner (ironically, a suggestion that had been made by comedian Chris Rock, bizarrely taken as public policy gospel by progressives).   Likewise, the attempts to ban lead in ammunition under marginal environmental health justifications were yet another way to drive up costs and limit access for the average consumer.

Another sad chapter was something called “Operation Choke Point” (OCP)—a joint operation during the Obama administration comprised of offices from several federal agencies (and yes, this is what they called the effort!).  The official goal of OCP was to target credit card and financial fraud, but as a report from the US House of Representatives made clear, the Obama administration used the operation to target businesses with whom they had an ideological “animus”—and a major industry targeted was the firearms sector, both dealers and manufacturers of guns and ammunition.

The modus operandi was as follows:  the agencies involved with OCP would put pressure on banks and credit card payment processors to stop doing business with a particular class or sector of businesses or industries.  If these financial services businesses didn’t cooperate with the Obama Administration, they would suffer regulatory consequences.

As a result, businesses found their financial service options (and thus their cash flow) cut off, and they were literally being starved of the monies necessary for them to survive.

For the Obama administration, they could achieve their goal of ending the sale of firearms and ammunition and the 2nd Amendment wouldn’t be directly impinged… sidestepping the Constitution entirely (it was ironic that the public only became aware of OCP after the operation targeted adult entertainers—many of whom suddenly found their bank accounts being closed, again, because someone in the Obama administration found this industry offensive, but, because of the First Amendments protection of adult entertainment, they couldn’t directly “go after” them).

Due to public pressure, especially in the wake of the House report sharply rebuking the Obama administration and OCP, OCP was severely ratcheted down in 2015, and officially ended by the Trump administration in the summer of 2017.

One would hope that this side-stepping would end there, but it has now come to light that at least two banks—Bank of America and Citigroup are engaging in Operation Choke Point-type practices on their own.   Both have announced that they will no longer be providing their financial services to manufacturers of AR-15 rifles—despite the fact that these kinds of rifles are integral tools for self-defense for millions of Americans (including many women, for whom an AR-15 can be effective at leveling the playing field between themselves and a potentially more-powerful assailant).

Essentially, Citigroup and Bank of America are trying to jumpstart the OCP process within corporate America, outside of the channels of government-officialdom.  Known that they cannot out-and-out repeal the Second Amendment, or directly enact a ban on AR-15s (which they know is entirely unworkable in any case), they hope to achieve the same thing through corporate ends.

The problem, of course, is that financial services entities are held to a significant regulatory standard in terms of how they select and deny customers—they are supposed to make their decisions on who to extend credit to, for instance, strictly on credit-worthiness determination.   Not on some arbitrary standard (which leads to the kinds of discriminatory practices that financial services regulations were created to prevent).

Conservatives and libertarians believe that those who use their creative talents in business should not be compelled to use those talents in ways that violate their conscience.  But unless we’re suggesting that weighing some business entity’s credit-worthiness is somehow an act of conscience, the same standards simply do not apply.

This especially holds true for entities that have substantially benefited from the generosity of taxpayers when these corporations were most in-need.  For them to turn around and attempt an end-run around the Constitution is a sorry way to give thanks.

The American people voiced deep concern when the Obama administration tried side-stepping the Constitution via Operation Choke Point.   It goes without saying that they are going to be just as troubled when these banks try to do the same thing on their own.