POWELL – Gun makers unable to sell their guns and ammunition on the Shop Wyoming state website – and a Cody lawmaker wants Attorney General to take action against it which it considers unlawful discrimination.
Last month, Representative Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, called on Attorney General Bridget Hill to use new law to sue the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, which operates the online marketplace.
Williams made the request after complaints from Big Horn Armory of Cody, who has struggled unsuccessfully for nearly a year to list his weapons on ShopWyoming.com.
The problem stems from the two major payment processors used by the site, Stripe and PayPal, as neither of the two processors will handle sales of firearms and ammunition. But Big Horn Armory chairman Greg Buchel and Williams accuse the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network itself – run by the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Business Council, and the US Small Business Administration – of discriminating against the industry as well. firearms.
“The group that controls the Shop Wyoming website is free to choose which platform to use, they are guilty of that choice,” Williams wrote to the Attorney General on October 29, echoing an earlier email from Buchel. . “The payment processor for Shop Wyoming and by association the Wyoming Small Business Development Center and its directors employed by the University of Wyoming are in flagrant violation of WS 13-10-302 (a).”
The law in question – which typically prevents financial institutions from discriminating against gun-related businesses – was passed by the Wyoming legislature and enthusiastically signed by Governor Mark Gordon in early April.
Earlier this month, AG Hill said his office would look into the matter. However, it is not clear whether Hill could take legal action against the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network, as the new law appears to only apply to financial institutions and not their customers. This is a point that was brought up by Wyoming SBDC Network Director Jill Kline.
Emails provided by Buchel indicate that there is also some uncertainty as to whether out-of-state payment processors like PayPal and Stripe are subject to the law. The legislation also states that financial institutions can choose not to provide services to firearms companies “for business or financial reasons.”
While the attorney general’s office only agreed to look into the matter, Buchel called it “the most positive action I have seen so far.”
In an interview, Director Kline said the SBDC has nothing against guns and only realized that the underlying e-commerce platform banned gun sales after be subscribed to the service.
“… we thought we made a great selection,” Kline said in an interview. “Like many of the ‘what if’ questions we’ve asked, obviously we haven’t asked all of them. “
She said the intention was never to exclude anyone.
“We’re just trying to put in place a program that will help businesses here in Wyoming during this difficult time,” Kline said.
The Wyoming SBDC Network, which is based at the University of Wyoming, publicly launched the Shop Wyoming Marketplace in February. The site was developed in partnership with an Iowa-based company that serves similar markets across the country, with all funding provided by the federal CARES Act.
Businesses can freely register to offer their products on the site, which SBDC touted as a place where customers can find products from many Wyoming businesses in one place.
Kline said he is giving businesses one place or another to sell their products online, especially as foot traffic can lag amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, through the program, “we’ve helped so many businesses get a website up and running,” she said.
About 107 vendors were using the Shop Wyoming platform at the start of the month, she said, with the site having attracted nearly 65,000 pageviews through October. That translates to 63 orders and just under $ 5,000 in sales. It’s only averaging around $ 50 per vendor, but Kline says the platform continues to grow and SBDC is hoping for a boost this holiday season.
Buchel applied to be a seller on February 1, seeking to offer Big Horn Armory’s “Unique Large Caliber Lever Pistols and Semi-Automatic Rifles.” However, the request was quickly rejected.
“Unfortunately, the payment [processor] because our site does not allow the sale of firearms or ammunition, so we cannot let you list them, ”explained the project manager at the time to Shop Wyoming. “However, if you want to sell gun accessories such as holsters, slings, or handcuffs, you can.”
Other retailers sell such accessories on the Shop Wyoming platform – including leather goods designed to hold bullets – and businesses can include a link to their full site. However, Buchel said he was not interested.
“We want to sell the guns themselves,” he said in an interview. “All the props are ancillary to the whole operation – we sell weapons, we manufacture weapons. This is the deal.
Buchel quickly brought the matter to the attention of state lawmakers.
Days after Big Horn Armory’s rejection in February, State Representative Tom Walters, R-Casper, asked Director Kline if the SBDC could find another payment processor – one that would allow manufacturers to state guns sell their products through Shop Wyoming.
“Wyoming has worked hard to recruit these manufacturers,” Walters wrote, “so it makes sense that Wyoming offers them the same opportunities as [it] offers others [businesses] in the state.”
However, Kline said that the “Shop Where I Live” e-commerce platform, created by Member Marketplace Inc. of Iowa, only offers PayPal and Stripe as payment options and only creating an alternative. would be prohibitive.
Kline again noted that Big Horn Armory could list its non-firearms products and link to its full site, saying this alternative is offered “to all companies that have encountered this challenge.”
“We want all of our retailers statewide to be successful and we’re happy to help that person,” Kline wrote in late February, referring to Buchel. “Unfortunately, this project will not work perfectly for all businesses. “
Meanwhile, state lawmakers passed Bill 236.
The law generally prohibits financial institutions – defined as payment processors, financial institutions defined in state law, and national banking associations – from discriminating against entities that “engage in the licit trade in firearms, ‘accessories for firearms or ammunition’.
If a business faces such discrimination, the law states that it can take legal action and seek actual, triple and punitive or exemplary damages from the institution, as well as recovery of its costs.
It also empowers the Wyoming attorney general’s office to file complaints against institutions that violate the law. Under the bill, the AG can ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order or permanent injunction against a financial institution that discriminates against gun entities. The attorney general can also seek a civil penalty of up to $ 20,000 per violation for repeated discrimination – and the state could sever its business relationship with any violator.
The final version of HB 236 passed the House on a 44-13 vote, while clearing the Senate 23-6. Gordon enacted it on April 8.
“I will tirelessly defend our Second Amendment and the Wyoming companies involved in the firearms industry,” said the governor at the time.
In August – a month after the new law took effect – Buchel again applied to join the Shop Wyoming platform. When he was turned down again, he accused Shop Wyoming processors, the Wyoming SBDC Network, and its directors at the University of Wyoming of violating the law.
Kline responded by noting that UW is not a payment processor or a financial institution.
“We simply subscribe to the ecommerce platform that hosts the site, and as a subscriber we must comply with the terms and conditions provided by the platform,” she wrote in the conversation. by email, which included a few lawmakers.
Buchel, however, said it seemed the organizations were “to blame” for their choice of platform.
“We again ask you to reconsider your decision on this matter before further action is necessary,” he wrote.
Representative Williams took up the case in the late October email to Attorney General Hill, requesting action under the new law, and she denounced the actions of the Wyoming SBDC Network in a press release earlier this month. -this.
“I am appalled that they are not following the new law,” said Williams, praising the Wyoming gun industry and Big Horn Armory, which is expanding its operations.
Hill did not respond to a message seeking comment, but the attorney general’s office is now apparently in the process of determining whether the law is being followed. As the complaint is sorted out, the office will likely need to consider a number of issues. For example, while the law prohibits discrimination against firearms companies, financial institutions can choose not to provide a service if they have “a business or financial reason”.
Stripe bans “guns and ammunition; gunpowder and other explosives ”under a category of prohibited items which he describes as“ regulated or illegal products or services ”. Additional items in the category include products containing tobacco, marijuana or CBD, prescription-only drugs, fireworks, and toxic, flammable and radioactive materials.
(Gaming services, adult content, bankrupt lawyers, psychic services, and door-to-door sales are also prohibited, among others.) PayPal prohibits the use of its services on a smaller but similar transaction list.
On their websites, neither PayPal nor Stripe specifically explains why they ban sales of firearms and ammunition. A general Stripe FAQ on Restricted Activities states that, “at this time, for a variety of reasons, including the requirements that apply to Stripe as a payment processor, the requirements of our financial partners, and the potential exposure at the risk to Stripe, we are currently unable to work with certain industries.
During Buchel’s discussions with state officials, some questions were raised as to whether Stripe and PayPal are subject to the law. A lawyer from the Legislative Services Office told Rep. Walters they probably are, although he called the issue “difficult” in “a considerably complicated area of law.”
For his part, Buchel thinks the situation with the Shop Wyoming platform is clear.
“They are discriminatory,” he said in an interview, adding, “They take a hard line and, you know, they’re wrong.”
While the attorney general ultimately refuses to take legal action, Buchel continues to have the option of hiring a private lawyer and bringing legal action himself.