Operation Choke Point is done, but the threat it posed still remains

  • 25 August 2017
  • NormanL
Operation Choke Point is done, but the threat it posed still remains

"Operation Choke Point" was an Obama-era program that targeted businesses operated as part of criminal enterprises. The Obama Justice Department, however, cast its legal net so widely, however, that many law abiding business owners were also put under harsh government scrutiny because the Obama administration didn't like their line of work -- including a number of firearms dealers. 

The Trump administration, to its credit, has ended the program:

Stephen E. Boyd, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs, wrote a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., saying that Operation Choke Point was “misguided” and that “law abiding businesses should not be targeted simply for operating in an industry that a particular administration might disfavor.”

The National Rifle Association lauded the change in policy:

"On behalf of the NRA’s five-million members, I want to thank President Trump and Attorney General Sessions for ending ‘Operation Choke Point’," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA-ILA. “President Obama's blatant attempt to misuse banking laws to destroy small firearm businesses was unconscionable. We appreciate the Trump administration's commitment to end it once and for all."

“Operation Choke Point” was an Obama administration initiative that encouraged federal financial regulators to harass and intimidate banks and financial institutions that had business relationships with firearm and ammunition retailers. By leaning on the banks, regulators hoped to choke off their cash flow and force them out of business. A 2014 Congressional Investigation revealed that ammunition and firearm businesses were targeted as part of this effort.

"The federal government should not be allowed to pick winners and losers in the marketplace," concluded Cox. "This announcement is the latest in a long line of Trump administration successes in rolling back the failed policies of the Obama administration.”

But as the Heritage Foundation notes, there are still a number of steps to take to ensure gun dealers are not put under the same threat again:

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch once asked in a 2013 lecture, “What happens to individual freedom and equality when the criminal law comes to cover so many facets of daily life that prosecutors can almost choose their targets with impunity?”

It leaves us in roughly the same peril that businesses targeted by Operation Choke Point faced: subject to arbitrary punishment for conduct that a reasonable person would not assume to be immoral or illegal, much less a crime.

The Justice Department deserves credit for ending its “misguided” Operation Choke Point. Yet, if the goal is to restore common sense and certainty to federal law, there is plenty more that can and should be done before someone else takes advantage of the current excesses of federal power—the federal criminal code being the most egregious.

To start, Congress could direct regulatory agencies to identify and publish an accessible list of their regulations that potentially carry criminal penalties. The public would then have meaningful notice of their legal duties.

Also, Congress would then be able to review and ratify or repeal any of those regulations so that they, our elected officials, retain accountability for rules that entail imprisonment and deprivation of constitutional liberties, including the right to vote and to carry a firearm.

We are all for capturing the bad guys who do harm to our lives and property. But those efforts must always stay within the bounds of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.