A growing number of U.S. companies are reviewing their policies on selling guns or dealing with firms that do. This has put the Republican Party in a quandary. How is it to respond, for instance, to Citigroup’s recent demand that its new retail-sector clients not sell guns to people who are under 21 or haven’t passed a background check?
Nobody denies that Citigroup is within its rights to adopt that policy - and Republicans say they respect the right of companies to do business as they see fit, so long as it’s within the law. On the other hand, much of the party dislikes even such modest steps to improve gun safety. Some Republicans would like to punish initiatives like Citigroup’s, perhaps by tightening unrelated regulation or by denying the offenders government contracts.
“Your new policies,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Citigroup in a letter last week, “pose a serious barrier to the constitutional rights of millions of Americans.”
To state what ought to be obvious, a company that chooses not to sell guns, or not to do business with firms that do, isn’t taking away anybody’s rights.
The Second Amendment limits what governments can do when it comes to firearms, not what private firms and individuals may choose to do. The purpose of the Constitution is to protect those liberties. As a practical matter, moreover, Republicans are right to look skeptically at government interference in private markets - especially when policy is wrenched away from its proper purposes to serve other goals. Here is a perfect example of that. The purpose of government procurement is to provide taxpayers with high-quality services at the lowest cost, not to align government purchasing power with the goals of the National Rifle Association. The purpose of bank regulation is to improve the safety and soundness of the financial system, not to push Citigroup toward extending credit to all gun-sellers.
The Republican Party needs to refresh its memory on the proper role and limits of government power.