In the wake of December's Sandy Hook school shootings, the debate over America's firearms policy has come to a full boil, marked by increasingly heated arguments from lobbyists, legislators, gun owners and gun control activists. According to a gun manufacturing firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., it has even caused one of the country's biggest banks to take matters -- and the law -- into its own hands.
In late December, Joe Sirochman, president of American Spirit Arms, took to the Internet, claiming that Bank of America illegally withheld his company's funds because of the nature of its business. On his company's Facebook feed, Sirochman wrote that the bank put holds on payments for guns it sold through his e-commerce site. When he called to investigate why the deposits were being delayed, he alleges, he was eventually told by by a bank representative: "We believe you should not be selling guns and parts on the Internet."
Citing client confidentiality concerns, Bank of America refused to discuss Sirochman's specific case on the record. However, a bank spokeswoman noted that -- like most financial institutions -- Bank of America often flags atypical transactions, including major surges in deposits or withdrawals.
That description certainly fits the circumstances of the American Spirit Arms case. Sirochman acknowledges his company has experienced a massive surge in gun sales over the past few weeks, noting that "dealers [have been] selling out of inventory, manufacturers [have been] backlogged for months." His company has been no exception: Sirochman estimates that American Spirit Arms has had a "500 percent increase in website orders" -- the kind of activity that would be likely raise red flags at Bank of America.
So that explains the delay in clearing those deposits, but what about Sirochman's claim that Bank of America is unfairly (and illegally) targeting the gun business? While the spokeswoman, again, would not comment directly on Sirochman's case, she did note that it's common for a bank representative to contact a customer who is displaying unusual account activity. What is not common is for a bank employee to comment on the ethics of a customer's business, and, as yet, there seems to be no evidence that the exchange Sirochman cites actually occurred as described.
As for Sirochman, his account -- and the surge in firearm sales -- reflect a growing concern among America's pro-gun faction about the possibility that the federal government is finally moving forward on increased gun restrictions. As I've noted in other articles, despite a previous lack of any serious moves in that vein by the White House, the NRA and other pro-gun lobbying groups have long claimed that the Obama administration is eager to clamp down on gun owners. Ammo.net, an online ammunition store, last year referred to the president as "the greatest gun salesman in America."
Dire warnings aside, the last few years have been very good for firearms, a fact that is reflected in the stunning profits enjoyed of late by Cerberus Capital Management, a private-equity firm that has spent much of the last decade quietly buying up some of America's top gun manufacturers.
But Cerberus, at least, seems to think that the gun money train may be grinding to a halt. Shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings, the company announced plans to sell its firearm division. Perhaps those insightful capitalists have reason to think that, with Washington gearing up to finally address gun issues, problems like the one Sirochman alleges with Bank of America will soon be the least of the industry's worries.
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.