The National Rifle Association has its sights on the annual meeting today of People's Bank in Bridgeport, Conn.
If guns have to be checked at the door, the association might look for a different bank to issue its affinity Visa card.
Last year George Mougios, an NRA member attending the meeting, was stopped and frisked by guards. Mr. Mougios, who wasn't carrying a gun, complained to NRA headquarters.
That precipitated a flurry of letters among the NRA, Mr. Mougios, and People's Bank on the thrift's firearm policy.
Though People's now says it has no firearms policy, its behavior is likely to figure in forthcoming renegotiations of the card-issuing agreement that expires at yearend-especially if competing bids are close, said Albert C. Ross, an NRA second vice president in Arlington, Tex.
The NRA card has no annual fee and a fixed 13.9% interest rate. The NRA gets 0.5% of all purchases on the affinity cards, according to Mr. Mougios.
The storm grew out of a conversation between Mr. Mougios and a bank officer a few weeks before last year's annual meeting. In the discussion Mr. Mougios, who has more than one ax to grind with the $7 billion-asset thrift, complimented the officer on the NRA card.
Mr. Mougios, who is a former People's shareholder and holder of a proxy for 8,640 shares, said the bank officer then asked him if he were an NRA member. After Mr. Mougios said yes, the bank officer asked if he had a concealed-weapons permit. Mr. Mougios said yes again.
William T. Kosturko, a People's executive vice president, wrote Mr. Mougios on April 12, 1996, just days before the annual meeting, that public-safety concerns made it prudent to "ban firearms from our premises."
Mr. Mougios said he was frisked and denied entrance to the meeting after being told his proxy documentation was technically inadequate.
In a June letter, Mr. Kosturko wrote to the NRA: "We made a judgment call at the annual meeting-solely to guarantee the safety of our shareholders, directors, and employees-with respect to allowing Mr. Mougios to attend the meeting with a firearm. We stand by that judgment."
Mr. Ross, who also represents Houston-based Texas Commerce Bank as an attorney, said he thinks People's brought the problem on itself. He said he would support moving the NRA card from People's to another bank "in light of what happened to Mr. Mougios."
"I feel they pushed Mr. Mougios around, but he pushed them around-he's kind of like a bulldog with lockjaw," Mr. Ross said. "I'm glad he's after the bank and not the NRA."
Mr. Ross said he was particularly bothered by the way Mr. Mougios was apparently singled out and searched because of his NRA membership.
A bank spokeswoman Wednesday shrugged off the controversy, saying it was a non-event.
"It's appalling," said George A. Smith, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine. A member of the NRA himself, he said the Maine alliance would change banks if its organizational philosophy were violated.
"It actually came up," Mr. Smith said, noting that Sportsman's Alliance has a card with MBNA Corp. That Delaware-based bank concerned the alliance when it planned to build offices in a part of midcoast Maine where deer live during the winter.
MBNA spearheaded efforts to improve habitats elsewhere in conjunction with state agencies, Mr. Smith said. If it hadn't, Mr. Smith said the alliance would have sought another card issuer.
Groups like the NRA are very appealing to credit card banks because of the strong loyalty members have, said James Accomando, a consultant based in Fairfield, Conn.
"The stronger the bond of the group-and the NRA has a strong bond-the better it tends to perform as a credit card business," he said. "The NRA is a fantastic account" for People's.
Mr. Ross of the NRA said it has a low default percentage on cards. It charges the thrift to use its mailing list.
People's has a history of courting unusual and controversial affinity partnerships, something it had to do to build a national presence in the card business, Mr. Accomando said. He said People's, also now marketing cards in Britain, was the first issuer to gay and lesbian groups.
There may be an initial uproar when a bank issues cards for a controversial group, but it tends to die down quickly, Mr. Accomando said. He said the NRA card generated far less controversy than those aimed at gay and lesbian groups.
Recently, however, the bank has been moving "away from its wilder days," Mr. Accomando said. It has a more conservative management, he said. But it probably wants to retain the lucrative NRA business, he added.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mougios hopes his proxy documentation will gain him admittance to this year's meeting. He says he has been attending them for 30 years.
"I admire him for not backing down," said Mr. Ross. "Give him some brownie points for hanging in there."