General Electric has decided it will no longer help America buy guns. Not that America needs much help.
The company's banking arm, GE Capital, had been partnering with firearms dealers since 2006. The agreement allows gun stores to offer customers financing through GE Capital for new firearms sales. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company stopped establishing new partnerships with stores in 2008, but continued offering financing under existing agreements. Early this year, gun stores began receiving letters indicating that those agreements were also being terminated.
GE is clear on its rationale:
"Industry changes, new legislation and tragic events" led GE Capital to reexamine its policies on financing firearms, spokesman Russell Wilkerson said.
GE has close ties to what happened in Newtown. The company is based in Fairfield, Connecticut, about 25 miles from where the Sandy Hook shootings took place. And there's another, weirder link: Peter Lanza, the father of the shooter, works for the company.
As the Journal notes, GE's retreat from helping people guns is unlikely to stem the flood of new firearms.
The company's exit has little overall impact in a U.S. gun market, where sales last year totaled $11.7 billion, according to IBIS World. While a typical handgun can cost more than $300, financing remains a marginal activity.
Through March of this year, the FBI has conducted 6.9 million background checks. More than ten percent of those were conducted in Kentucky — but that's because the state runs monthly checks on concealed weapons permit-holders.
Taking Kentucky out of the equation and adjusting for population, the states with the most checks per 1,000 people are predominantly rural: Montana, West Virginia, New Hampshire. Connecticut falls right in the middle of the pack.
Even without Kentucky, that's 6.2 million checks in the first three months of 2013. In 2012, by contrast, the figure for the first three months was 4.8 million. Every state has seen an increase, some more than others.
But the point is clear: Gun sales aren't likely to slow down because GE Capital pulled its financing. Like so many other similar moves, what GE did has symbolic significance. Practical impact, probably not.