- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Louisiana commission voted Thursday to block two banking giants from taking part in a new highway project, moving to punish the companies for gun control policies they adopted after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting this year.

Citigroup and Bank of America had said they would work only with retailers who agreed to new restrictions on gun purchases — rules stricter than what federal law requires.

Louisiana’s bond commission said it wouldn’t tolerate that kind of bullying over a constitutional right and voted 7-6 to block the companies from gaining a piece of the financing for a $600 million highway plan.

The vote was a win for pro-gun advocates looking to make inroads in a debate that is increasingly spilling into the corporate arena, and comes as major service companies and social media giants move to adopt anti-firearms policies.

“If you have zero respect for the U.S. Constitution, then you don’t need to do business with the state of Louisiana,” said Sen. John N. Kennedy, a Republican who cheered his state’s move from Washington.

Opponents said Louisiana is opening itself to a lawsuit, though state Attorney General Jeff Landry said he believes state officials have “discretion to determine whether or not we want [an] agent to represent the state that restricts the Second Amendment rights that our citizens have.”

SEE ALSO: School shootings prompt bulletproof gear, more security

“It is not us who brought the social police into this commission — it is these institutions who did so, and in a very, very public way,” he said.

The banks said they aren’t infringing on constitutional rights.

Citibank in March announced it would work with retail clients only if they required background checks for gun purchases and curb sales, with some exceptions, to people under 21. Bank of America also announced after February’s Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that it would stop lending to clients that manufacture some styles of semiautomatic firearms.

Their moves were part of an overall pushback against guns in the wake of the shooting, which also saw companies cut ties to the National Rifle Association and consider divesting from gun companies.

Ottawa-based Shopify, which thousands of companies use to set up and run their online stores, abruptly changed its acceptable use policy this week to ban companies using its platform from selling certain types of firearms and gun parts.

Cody Wilson, founder of Texas-based Defense Distributed, said Shopify shut off his company’s store late last week with no advanced warning or notice.

“I promise that I will sue them in federal court for breach of contract,” said Mr. Wilson, adding he re-signed with them in April.

He said he thinks he’s being targeted because his company is in a high-profile battle to publish online plans for 3D-printed guns.

“The timing is so great,” he said. “It’s not a coincidence.”

Mr. Wilson had been planning to release the plans years ago but was blocked by the Obama administration, which said they ran afoul of military weapons export laws. After long litigation, the Trump administration concluded it would lose the case and reached a settlement to allow publication.

A judge has temporarily reversed that decision, though the plans already have been posted on websites across the internet.

Yet even there, gun-rights backers say they’re being stymied by Facebook, which recently started blocking users from posting the blueprints, saying it violates its standards, which prohibit buying and selling guns and ammunition through the site.

Gun-rights advocates say the plans amount to information, not actual guns, and should be considered free speech.

“They’re just making [it] up as they go,” said Brandon Combs, who helps run a website offering 3D-printed gun blueprints, which Facebook banned users from sharing on its pages. “There’s nothing you can do … how could you possible play within the rules when they make [stuff] up?”

Mr. Combs, president of the California-based Firearms Policy Coalition, said the coalition has tried to contact Facebook “through multiple channels” to get an explanation.

A Facebook representative reiterated the company’s new policy in response to a reporter’s questions.

Despite the outcry, companies generally have broad discretion about who they do business with, said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor at SUNY Cortland who has written extensively on the politics of gun control.

“And companies have access to the internet — they’re not being denied access to the internet,” Mr. Spitzer said. “So you’ve got a Facebook or whatever platform it happens to be — they have every right to say ‘no, we don’t want companies that sell guns to utilize our internet platform anymore.’”

Shopify’s policy change also seems to have caught companies by surprise.

Its new list of “restricted items” that companies using the platform aren’t allowed to sell includes certain semi-automatic weapons, ammunition magazines capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, “bump stock” devices that simulate machine gun rates of fire, and unfinished lower receivers.

A Shopify representative said it reviews and amends the rules for using its platform “from time to time.”

“As we continue to scale globally, we may further refine our policies as needed to ensure Shopify remains a trusted platform for merchants and their customers,” the spokesman said.

But Florida-based Spike’s Tactical says the $100,000 it has put into developing its Shopify store will now be gone, and that most of its products fall under the list of banned items.

“This decision will have significant ramifications to our business and should concern every online retailer and Second Amendment supporter,” said Cole Leleux, general manager of the company.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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