WOONSOCKET – A North Kingstown lawmaker is threatening to rally a boycott of Sovereign Bank if she finds out the bank closed its accounts with a local firearms dealer for political reasons.
“If I find out this is true I’m going to close my account with Sovereign Bank and recommend all the Second Amendment people in Rhode Island do the same,” State Rep. Doreen Costa (R-Dist. 31) told The Call. “Banks shouldn’t be choosing their customers because they’re in a certain kind of business. That’s just stupid.”
Costa, an advocate for strong gun ownership rights, was reacting to the experience of Bullseye Shooting Supplies, a firearm and hunting supply store on Park Avenue for nearly three decades.
Paul Connolly, the owner of the store, says he received a letter from the Sovereign bank branch on Social Street about April 3 advising him that it was closing his business and personal accounts.
The letter didn’t provide a reason, and when he asked for one the bank manager told him she was just doing what she was told, Connolly told The Call.
“Here I am a gun store and all of a sudden, out of the blue, they don’t want to do business with me, but they would not give me a reason,” he said. “They just said, ‘Get out’ and I can’t think of any other reason than that I’m in the gun business.”
He said his wife had a personal account with Sovereign and the bank told her it was terminating that account as well. They moved about $325,000 in all to Navigant Credit Union.
“They were very happy to get the business,” said Connolly.
Sovereign Bank’s official media contacts did not return phone calls or emails inquiring about Connolly’s experience on Friday.
Costa said she has already scheduled a meeting with Connolly at his place of business today. She said she wants to see the letter he received, find out who signed it and request a meeting to discuss it with the bank president.
“If I don’t get any satisfaction there I’ll go higher up,” said Costa, a member of the National Rifle Association.
Some pro-gun activists believe Connolly’s experience may be part of a trend associated with the political fallout from the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six teachers were shot to death in the incident, which became the catalyst for President Obama to propose new federal reforms on certain types of firearms and ammunition. Similar reforms have trickled down to legislative bodies in numerous states, including Rhode Island, where Costa has opposed many of the proposals initiated by Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Jack Peters, the legislative chairman of the Federated Rhode Island Sportsmen’s Clubs, told the online news site Watchdog.org recently that he believes what happened to Connolly is tied to a deliberate political strategy to strain the resources of gun manufacturers so they’ll have fewer resources to devote to lobbying.
“It’s happening at the national level and it’s happening here locally,” Peters was quoted as saying, calling Sovereign bank and others “hostile to gun shops. But the credit unions are a viable alternative.”
John Frances, the proprietor of Competition Shooting Supplies in Pawtucket, agrees.
“Over the past few years, around the country there have been other dealers who have had these experiences,” he said. “It is not uncommon anymore.”
Francis couldn’t cite any specific examples, but there is certainly evidence that politicians have publicly pressured banks to get out of the gun business. It was widely reported this winter that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent letters to TD Bank and Bank of America suggesting they stop lending money to major gun manufacturers if they didn’t come out in favor of the gun control measures proposed by Obama, his former boss. Bank of America is known to have had strained relationships with gun manufacturers even before Emanuel’s actions.
Sovereign Bank is a subsidiary of the Santander Group, which is headquartered in Spain, where human rights activists have condemned the company for holding a high number of investments in the weapons industry.
A Woonsocket native, Connolly has owned Bullseye Shooting Supplies for 29 years, a business that grew out of his passion for hunting. Before launching Bullseye, he used to own a gun shop in Vermont, where he hunted and also worked as a police officer part-time.
Connolly, who wears a hip-holstered Glock semi-automatic while he’s behind the counter of his gun shop, says the feared crackdown on weapons has actually been a boon for business. For a while, it was difficult to obtain some types of weapons that gun enthusiasts thought might be banned, and some kinds of ammunition continue to be in short supply.
“Twenty-two caliber ammunition is almost impossible to find,” he says. “We try to save a little for customers we know are also buying guns.”
Until he received the cutoff letter, Connolly says he had been doing business with Sovereign or one of its predecessor banks at the same location since the founding of Bullseye Shooting Supplies.
Switching banks on short notice didn’t cause him any lasting harm, he said, although the timing could have been better.
“The letter came the week before I was going on vacation,” he said. “I had to order checks. I couldn’t pay any bills until I had checks. I had to scramble. It was a major inconvenience.”