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Firearms companies, supporters argue against discrimination from payment processors
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From left, Gary Ramey, president of Honor Defense, a Gainesville-based pistol manufacturer, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Richard Moore, an assembler at Honor Defense, talk during a tour before a press conference in Gainesville on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Honor Defense was dropped by its payment processing services, Stripe and Intuit, due to the company's involvement in the firearms industry. - photo by David Barnes

Georgia lawmakers and the National Shooting Sports Foundation are rallying for Gary Ramey, the Gainesville gun-maker who believes he’s being discriminated against for being in the firearms industry.

Honor Defense, Ramey’s company, was dropped by its online payment processor, Stripe, in August 2017 because the San Francisco-based company no longer wanted to do business with the Gainesville manufacturer because of his trade in firearms. In March, Ramey was notified by Intuit that his business would no longer be able to accept credit card payments by phone — again because he’s in the firearms industry.

As a result, Honor Defense was unable to take payments online and still can’t accept payments over the phone from retailers, interrupting his business and causing headaches for customers who wanted to buy direct from Ramey instead of through a retailer.

“When that process is interrupted, it interrupts our opportunity for our small business to grow,” Ramey said on Tuesday, June 19. “For that business to grow within Georgia and America, we have to at least have a level playing field.”

Ramey has made 9mm pistols — by far the most popular caliber for concealed carry on the market — in his Gainesville shop since early 2016. After a career as an executive and in venture capital, Ramey got into the firearms industry as an executive with Beretta, an Italian firearms manufacturer founded in the 1500s.

After a few years with Baretta, Ramey decided to start a shop of his own and relocated from Alpharetta to Gainesville. He now has a national presence as a manufacturer — his team can churn out as many as 200 handguns a day, if need be — selling in more than 1,000 stores. 

On Tuesday, Ramey was visited by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican candidate for governor in the midst of a runoff against Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and Trevor Santos, director of government relations and state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Cagle and Santos talked with Ramey about his problems with service providers dealing with the firearms industry.

Cagle called for an expansion of the Georgia Firearms Industry Nondiscrimination Act to include intermediaries like Stripe and Intuit, which handle payments but don’t bank. He said there’s a “social agenda that’s out there” that’s making life hard for legal firearms businesses.

“Not only do we have a law on the books that you cannot discriminate against firearms manufacturers, along with ammo, but we have to take that a step further and make sure that the financial institutions and intermediaries are not … (impeding) the progress of business for these small businesses,” Cagle said during a press conference at Honor Defense.

Ramey said on Monday that the Georgia Attorney General’s Office won’t take up his case as both Stripe and Intuit are licensed as “money transmitters” and not banks. 

The law was written to prevent banks and other financial institutions from blocking access of firearms businesses to the financial system, but Ramey noted on Tuesday that both companies told him their decisions were driven by the banks they rely on for their businesses.

Santos said he’s seen “blatant discrimination against the firearms industry” in the past, from “financial services providers to credit card processors.”

It’s not just manufacturers. Foxhole Guns and Archery in Gainesville, which carries Honor Defense pistols, works as locally as possible to avoid problems with national banks and processors — problems that peaked about two years ago.

“It was kind of nasty,” said Jon Lipscomb, Foxhole’s owner, on Tuesday. “It seemed like everyone was dropping gun shops.”

From banks to Paypal and Facebook, linchpin businesses for small companies were opting out of serving the firearms industry, both because of pressure from the federal government and popular culture.

In 2013, the Department of Justice initiated Operation Choke Point, which leaned on financial institutions to stop doing business with what the federal government considered industries with high risks of fraud and other crimes. Legitimate firearms businesses were caught in the net, and banks began to cut ties with the industry.

With school shootings and other attacks dominating the news and social media, businesses around the country have been trying to distance themselves from the industry in recent years.

“I don’t think they’re trying to be anti-gun, I think they’re just scared,” Lipscomb said. “That’s my opinion, I think they’re just scared to death.”

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