Activists See Trend as Bank Cuts Off Rhode Island Gun Shop


Paul Connolly says he doesn’t much care for watching hockey, basketball, baseball or other spectator sports on TV.

Instead, he likes getting outside where he can hunt, fish and trap. Above all else, Connolly is particularly passionate about his firearms.

“What began as a hobby turned into a life-long business venture,” he said during a phone interview with Watchdog.org.

He’s the owner  of Bullseye Shooting Supplies in Woonsocket, R.I., a full-service firearms retailer that has been on the receiving end of a steady stream of customers. That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, Connolly’s business also is on the receiving end of some very disconcerting correspondence that may be part of a larger national effort aimed at diluting Second Amendment rights. That’s the bad news.

“We’ve done very well over the past several months,” he said. “I think President Obama actually helped us to sell guns. In fact, back in January and February we were selling them as fast as we were getting them in.”

In response to the December mass shooting of schoolchildren in neighboring Newtown, Conn.,  Obama said gun control would be a priority in his second term.

“I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” Obama said during a speech at the White House.

Connolly and some of his long-time associates suspect those “powers” may be partly responsible for a caustic letter he received from Sovereign Bank, dated April 1, that said the bank was closing both his business and personal accounts.

Jack Peters, a Rhode Island gun-rights activist, was in the shop the day Connolly opened the letter.

“I knew instantly there was something wrong when I walked in,” Peters said. “I’ve known Paul for over 30 years, and he’s always calm and collected. But not this time, so I asked him what was up.”

Connolly was forced into a situation where he had to scramble to cover payroll obligations and business expenses in very short order.

“I was told that I had 30 days from the date of the letter to withdraw all funds from Sovereign Bank and to close my safety deposit box,” Connolly said. “This means my personal checking, my business accounts and my wife’s personal savings account. I really had to scramble, and I went nuts opening up new accounts.”

All told, Connolly withdrew $300,000 from Sovereign Bank and transferred the funds into a local credit union. Prior to receiving the letter, Connolly said he had a congenial and productive relationship with the bank.

“I was with Sovereign Bank before it was Sovereign Bank when it was under different names,” he said. “I had more money in there over the past few months than I’ve ever had before. Financially, we were doing well. So that can’t be the issue. I asked the bank manager for an explanation, but I never got one.”

Connolly said he suspects he was cut off because the bank no longer wants to do business with the gun industry for political reasons.

Peters, who serves as the legislative chairman for the Federated Rhode Island Sportsmen’s Clubs, said he sees an organized, concerted effort at work to undermine the Second Amendment.

He points out that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to the president, already has urged some of the nation’s larger banks to severe their relationship with gun manufacturers. The idea, he said, is to put gun manufacturers under a financial strain so they will be less likely to spend money lobbying against stricter gun-control laws.

“I do view a lot of what we’re seeing as an all-out assault on the Second Amendment,” Peters said. “It’s happening at the national level and it’s happening here locally. Sovereign Bank (and) Bank of America … are … known to be hostile to gun shops. But the credit unions are a viable alternative.”

On April 9, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee rolled out a nine-bill “gun safety package” that was closely timed with a speech Obama delivered in Newtown that pressured congressional leaders to pass gun-control legislation.

“The goal here is to ban all firearms in Rhode Island and to ban the manufacturing of guns,” Peters said. “But there’s more going on here than just the constitutional question, as important as that is. There’s also an economic impact.”

He cites figures from the National Shooting Sports Foundation that show hunting, fishing, trapping and target shooting accounted for about $201 million in business activity for Rhode Island in 2012.

“This is the one industry that’s growing in Rhode Island,” he said.

Watchdog.org contacted the local Sovereign Bank branch in Rhode Island that cut off  Bullseye Shooting Supplies and was referred to the parent company’s media relations department. Mary Ellen Higgins, vice-president of public relations for Sovereign Bank, told Watchdog.org that the bank was “unlikely to offer any response” since it does not typically discuss customer accounts.

Mike Stenhouse, president of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, said he would like to see a larger investigation into the actions banks appear to be taking against gun shops.

“If this is true, if the banks are systematically cutting off funds for political reasons and not business reasons, then we need to find out where this pressure is coming from,” Stenhouse said. “There are too many unholy alliances between big government and big business that trample on the rights of law abiding citizens.”

Bank of America reportedly has terminated its business ties with gun manufacturers across the country.

Stenhouse also called on state lawmakers to rethink the gun-control package Chafee is pushing.

“For too long our state leaders have offered up knee jerk, emotional reactions that result in public policy decisions that have unintended consequences,” he said. “We are talking about documented, verifiable instances where these policy choices undercut our economy. What we need is a more thoughtful, constitutional, economically viable approach.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Watchdog.org, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

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