Banks in Florida may soon have to deal with new state oversight of how they treat gun businesses if Governor Ron Desantis (R.) gets his way.
On Tuesday, Desantis announced plans to pass new regulations for banks with the goal of preventing them from incorporating social concerns into how they decide which companies to work with. He singled out how major banks have shut out gun businesses in recent years. He even invited Brandon Wexler, owner of Wex Gunworks, on stage to share his story about being dropped by Wells Fargo last month.
“If your bank account is being closed down, your life just got turned upside down,” Wexler told the crowd. “If you can’t transact with a business, you don’t have a business.”
“We are also going to enact protections for Floridians against discrimination by big banks and large financial institutions for their religious, political, or social beliefs,” Desantis said.
The move is part of a broader effort by Desantis to use government regulation to constrain what he views as “woke” corporations from instituting political agendas using their economic influence. It comes as the gun industry is trying to find ways to push back against major banks, such as Bank of America and Citibank, declining to do business with them over the banks’ opposition to certain guns and magazines. Texas has already implemented a law that bars banks that have refused to work with gun companies from doing business with the state, and Republicans in Congress recently introduced a bill that would forbid financial institutions from dropping businesses in the firearms industry.
The fight over banking for gun businesses has been ongoing since the Obama Administration was caught pressuring financial institutions into cutting ties with industries it disfavored, including gun and ammunition suppliers. It gained renewed attention after several large banks said they wouldn’t do business with anyone who makes or sells “assault weapons” or “high-capacity” magazines. Most recently, Wells Fargo’s decision to drop Wex Gunworks over reputational concerns garnered attention from gun-rights groups and Republican lawmakers alike.
As first reported by The Reload, the bank closed Wexler’s business and personal accounts late last year. In letters it sent to him, the bank said the decision was made after it reviewed his business.
“Wells Fargo performs ongoing reviews of its account relationships in connection with the Bank’s responsibilities to manage risks in its banking operations,” the bank said in a December 22nd letter to Wexler. “We recently reviewed your account relationship and, as a result of this review, we will be closing your above-referenced accounts.”
A second letter said Wells Fargo was canceling Wexler’s business line of credit because its “banking guidelines exclud[e] lending to certain types of businesses.”
Jennifer L. Langan, Head of communications for CSBB & Consumer Lending at Wells Fargo, disputed the claim that the account closures were due to Wexler’s work as a gun dealer.
“Based on our analysis of the risk associated with this customer, we made a decision to close the accounts,” she told The Reload at the time. “Our decision is not based on the industry.”
Wells Fargo sent Wexler another letter after The Reload’s story was published reiterating that its decisions were based on his “account relationship and activity” and not his status as a licensed gun dealer.
“To be clear, Wells Fargo does not have a policy against doing business with firearms companies,” the company said in the letter. “Wells Fargo is not exiting the firearms industry and provides financial services to many firearms businesses.”
However, none of the letters explain why the bank considers Wexler a risk. The bank did not provide details on its concerns when asked by The Reload. Wexler, who is also a professional firefighter, said he isn’t facing any legal trouble and has no idea why Wells Fargo finds him risky after decades of working together.
“I think it’s wrong what they did to me,” he said at the event. “What Wells Fargo did was completely wrong.”
Desantis accused financial institutions of using social credit scores to determine who they’ll do business with, something he said was akin to how the Chinese Communist Party operates.
“This also ends up going when a bank evaluates different companies,” he said. “They’ll use things called ‘social credit scores.’ This is actually something actually more likely to find use in the CCP. It doesn’t have use in the US of A. They’re ranking you about what you’re doing to basically conform your behavior to their ideological imperatives. And that’s not something that is acceptable here in the state of Florida.”
He claimed these sorts of evaluations only affect right-leaning groups and individuals.
“Their targets always seem to be, and I haven’t seen an example where it’s not, they always seem to be those people who are disfavored by the jet setters in places like Davos: Second Amendment advocates, people involved in the production of domestic energy,” He said.
Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R.) and House Speaker Paul Renner (R.) joined Desantis on stage at the event. They threw their support behind the plan to freeze out banks from state contracts if they use social credit scores or refuse to do business with gun companies or other legal-but-disfavored industries.
“The goal of corporate activism seen in environmental, social, and governance investing (ESG) is to bypass democracy and transform capitalism to serve an ideological agenda,” Renner said. “We will not allow these martini millionaires to push unsafe and unsound investment practices that silence debate in the political process, weaken investment strategies for Florida retirees, and discriminate against any individual’s beliefs.”
Desantis framed the issue as one of “who governs our society” and said elected officials should be the ones to decide who can and can’t have access to the financial system.
“Our Constitution says we the people govern through elections and different houses of the legislature… the executive… you can kind of arrive at policy, and people can evaluate that. They can choose other people in future elections. Well, what ESG does, and when you have major asset managers and these international folks and folks at these big Wall Street Banks… they just want to do an end run around that. They don’t want to have to worry about winning elections.”