A gun and pawn shop owner in Florida received what he was told is “one of the gun letters” from his bank last month informing him that his business is no longer welcome.
Steve Champion, who opened American Gun & Pawn in Brooksville last year, received a letter from SunTrust on March 20, stating that he’ll have to close his accounts by April 20.
The letter matches others sent to pawn shops and gun store owners across the country. Though banks and the federal government have remained tight-lipped about the closures, they are believed to be related to Operation Choke Point, a Department of Justice initiative ostensibly aimed at ending bank fraud. Choke Point has identified nearly 30 types of businesses as being at “high-risk” for fraudulent and illegal activities. The “high-risk” list includes gun shops, pawn shops, coin dealers and payday lenders.
“SunTrust continuously reviews its products, markets, and client relationships to ensure that we are able to provide the best possible client services,” reads SunTrust’s letter to Champion.
“As a result of a recent account review, we regret to inform you that SunTrust is no longer able to provide some of the financial services you require. We respectfully request that you immediately begin closing all of your SunTrust deposit accounts, safe deposit boxes and credit cards by 4/20/2015,” the letter continues, noting that the decision cannot be reversed.
While Operation Choke Point does not explicitly force banks to end relationships with “high-risk” companies, it is believed that maintaining those relationships opens banks up to more scrutiny. Rather than deal with more oversight, some banks seem to have chosen to stop doing business with such companies altogether.
Naturally, Champion is not happy with the decision and has vowed to spread word of SunTrust’s actions.
“I’ve worked my whole life to open a business,” he told WFLA. “I have a near-perfect credit score. I have zero debt.”
“There is no reason other than they don’t want to do business either with a gun store or a pawn shop, period,” he said. “So they’re discriminating.”
“We’re a legitimate business that’s licensed through the federal government so why am I being singled out and why is my account being canceled?” he continued. “It’s just unacceptable, and I told them I will tell everyone that wants to listen.”
A spokesman for SunTrust told WFLA that the bank began severing relationships with pawn shops last year. He said that gun stores are not being targeted. Many pawn shops across the U.S. also sell guns.
But Champion questions the accuracy of that statement, given what a SunTrust customer service representative told him.
“Oh, you got one of the gun letters,” the employee said, explaining to Champion that gun stores across the country are receiving the same correspondence.
SunTrust was in the news last year for a similar crackdown on a South Carolina pawn and gun shop owner.
Morris Williams, the owner of Inman Gun and Pawn, had been doing business with the bank since 2006 when he was informed in a letter last August that he’d have to close all of his accounts. A SunTrust representative told The Daily Caller then that the closure was related to Inman’s pawn business. (RELATED: Store Owners Says His Bank Accounts Closed Because He Sells Guns)
“It doesn’t matter if this business is a pawn shop, sells guns, or cashes checks, as long as they are operating within the law their bank shouldn’t be pressured to cut off their account,” Brian Wise, the president of the U.S. Consumer Coalition, which is fighting Operation Choke Point, told TheDC then.
While SunTrust claims that Champion and Williams were targeted because of the pawn shop side of their businesses, there have been other cases in which stores that sell only guns have fallen victim to Choke Point.
Last year, Mark Cohen, the owner of Powderhorn Outfitters, a gun retailer in Hyannis, Mass., said that an executive at his bank, TD Bank, told him directly that it would not extend a line of credit “because you sell guns.” (RELATED: Gun Seller Dropped By Bank Rejects Their Offer ‘To Kiss And Make Up’)
And in November, Mike Shuetz, the owner of Hawkins Guns in Wisconsin, recorded a conversation he had with an executive at Heritage Credit Union after he was told that his bank accounts would be closed. The executive explained that federal regulators had recently inspected the credit union and targeted Shuetz’s business because he sells guns. (RELATED: Audio Tapes Reveal How Federal Regulators Shut Down Gun Store Owner’s Bank Accounts)