Credit card companies to adopt new sales code for gun transactions


New York

US credit card giants have said they will implement a new merchant category code for gun retailers nationwide, which gun control activists say will help flag potential mass shooters and gun traffickers.

The Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization approved the code on Friday. The system will separately categorize sales at gun and ammunition stores, which proponents say can help track suspicious gun and ammunition transactions.

Visa, the world’s largest payment network, « will take the next steps, » the company said in a statement on Sunday, « while working to protect all legal commerce on the Visa network in accordance with our long-standing rules. »

American Express said it would follow its usual business practices and work with third-party processors and partners to implement the code.

“We strive to ensure that we have the right controls in place to meet our regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities, as well as to prevent illegal activity on our network,” the company said in a statement Sunday.

A Saturday statement from Mastercard noted that recent bipartisan action in Congress is a positive step in the « significant » fight against gun violence. Now that the ISO has approved the new merchant category code, Mastercard said it is focusing on how the system will be implemented by merchants and their banks.

« We continue to support lawful purchases on our network while protecting the privacy and decisions of individual cardholders, » Mastercard said in a statement. « This is exactly how we would handle the process for any other suitable MCC, like a bike shop or a sporting goods store. »

Almost every retail item has a merchant category code – before Friday’s ISO decision, gun store sales were categorized as general merchandise or sporting goods.

Merchant codes track where a consumer used a credit card, but do not indicate what specific items were purchased. Gun rights activists have argued that the code would unfairly police legal gun purchases.

« It’s not about tracking or prevention or any virtuous motivation – it’s about creating a national registry of gun owners, » the NRA said on Sunday.

The New York Times found in 2018 that electronic payments were being used to buy the guns and ammunition used in some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings, including in Aurora, Colorado, San Bernardino, California, in Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas.

Amalgamated Bank and some politicians, including New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Senator Elizabeth Warren, had lobbied the ISO to implement the code. The financial firm first requested the code from ISO last summer, an Amalgamated official said.

« The new code will allow us to fully comply with our obligation to report suspicious activity and illegal arms sales to authorities without blocking or impeding legal arms sales, » said Priscilla Sims Brown, President and Chief direction of Amalgamated Bank, in a press release on Friday.

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