In 2012, Bank of America told an Arizona gun maker that it would no longer provide banking services for the company, just because it makes guns.
Kelly McMillan, whose family has been in the firearms business since 1973, quickly learned that he wasn't alone. Many banks were becoming skittish about doing any business with gun makers, from basic banking services to processing credit card sales.
"The financial institutions have deemed that firearms transactions are high-risk and a lot of companies just flat refuse to handle any type of firearms related transaction," McMillan said. "As a result, I set out on a mission to find a pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment processor that was willing to partner with me."
He found one, and launched McMillan Merchant Solutions. His new company has become a sort of safety net for other firearms makers who might suddenly find themselves dropped from their financial service providers, and unable to process credit card transactions.
According to McMillan, this happens all the time.
"The firearms industry is under enormous pressure, with many financial vendors covertly discriminating against firearms manufacturers and retailers," he said. "Others openly refuse to handle legal firearms transactions or lend to anyone in the firearms industry."
Some of this pressure could be coming from the desire of risk-averse banks to avoid any connection with an industry that typical comes under scrutiny whenever a tragic shooting death happens. Nathan Danus, executive vice president of McMillan's company, says it could also be related to the political leanings of bank owners.
"We don't know if it's because the leadership of those companies are on the left-hand side of the political aisle, or if it's that they've somehow convinced themselves there's some perceived risk out there," he said. Danus said events like the Sandy Hook shooting could be prompting some financial institutions to decide that "they just don't want to be a part of it."
Danus said that increasingly, credit card processors are explicitly stating that they won't handle customers in the industry at all.
More recently, however, gun makers appear to be facing pressure from the Obama administration through Operation Choke Point. Under that operation, federal officials have put pressure on banks and other financial institutions to drop gun makers and other companies that officials have deemed as "high risk," even when there is no evidence that a particular company is flouting the law.
Just last week, an Oregon gun maker claimed to be the latest victim of Operation Choke Point, as it was told by its credit card processing company that it was being dropped. That company, Calico, switched to McMillan.
Danus said that when it comes to online sales, there's a basic disconnect between banks and gun makers that also isn't helping. When someone buys something online with a credit card, most banks want the merchant to ship the item directly to the purchaser's home billing address.
But that's not legal in the gun industry. Federal law requires guns bought online to be shipped to a federal firearms licensed dealer to be picked up — those dealers run the required background checks on the buyer before the buyer can take possession.
That reality seems to be making it hard for gun makers and banks to see eye to eye. Danus said that because McMillan's Second Amendment-friendly card processing service understands the industry, they're able to comfortably pick up business other banks are afraid to touch.
That's a critical function the company plays in the firearms industry, since it allows gun makers to have online businesses.
"Nobody has just a brick and mortar retail storefront anymore," Danus said. "You can't survive that way, you need to have a secondary distribution."
McMillan seems to have gotten the last laugh in his quest to ensure the firearms industry has access to the banking system. His busy company is not only thriving, but it's literally giving back to the industry that has supported his family for years.
"I personally am donating a percentage of all the money made by McMillan Merchant Solutions to Second Amendment rights organization and firearms industry supportive organizations," he says.