The gun-control movement, with the help of an international organization that develops standards in a number of fields, appears to have found a way to try to pressure credit-card companies to peer into gun owners’ transactions and lives. These records could be used to create digital records of who is buying goods at federally licensed firearms dealers.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) seems to have known this was coming on September 7, when she tweeted: “Everyone needs to do their part to combat gun violence. @AmericanExpress, @Mastercard & @Visa should categorize firearm purchases & flag suspicious activity—just like they do for millions of other transactions.”
Then, on September 9, the International Organization for Standardization—based in Geneva, Switzerland—announced the creation of a new way to categorize transactions that are specific to any business that deals in retail firearm and ammunition sales. This categorization would be part of the “Merchant Category Code” (MCC), which payment processing networks (like Visa, MasterCard and American Express) use to identify various transactions.
As NRA-ILA reported, “If fully implemented by the various payment processors, the hope of gun-control groups for this new MCC is that it will create a registry of gun owners that they have long sought.”
Mastercard, American Express and Visa have resisted creating a unique merchant category code just for stores that sell guns and ammunition. On September 9, a senior official at Visa, Robert B. Thomson III, even sent a public letter to lawmakers opposing the move. “We believe asking payment networks to serve as a moral authority by deciding which legal goods can or can not be purchased sets a dangerous precedent,” Thomson wrote.
A spokesperson for Mastercard also told The New York Times that they believe policies like this should be the “job of Congress.”
Gun-control groups have been lobbying financial institutions to do this for years. Fox Business reported that “New York City officials and pension funds had pushed the ISO [International Organization for Standardization] and banks to adopt the new code on gun shop sales.” The pressure worked.
This story made headlines when Amalgamated Bank, a New York-based bank that lobbied the ISO to create this code, announced the ISO had made this decision. Amalgamated Bank calls itself “the first banking organization to endorse Everytown for Gun Safety’s principles.” Amalgamated Bank says it pushed for the new code after “years of research and partnership with issue experts at Guns Down America and Giffords Law Center … .” Guns Down America and Giffords are, of course, anti-gun groups.
As a result of the proposed change, financial-services companies, such as banks, might next be pressured to block some or all purchases from stores that sell firearms, which could be easily accomplished if the new firearm-specific MCCs are fully implemented, as these stores will have a unique four-digit code these credit-card companies would use.
These codes were originally created in 2004 by the IRS to simplify 1099 reporting for businesses. Generally, a store is categorized with a four-digit code to match the product category they primarily sell; a big box store, such as a Walmart, however, could have different codes being used at different counters in various departments. There are approximately 600 MCCs currently being used to categorize various types of businesses.
But these codes don’t target specific products. A candy store (MCC code 5441), for example, might also sell sunglasses, hats or postcards, but all of its sales will typically be categorized under the same MCC code.
Therefore, a person who uses a credit card to purchase a gun safe, a trolling motor and binoculars from a sporting goods store over several weeks or months, as well as any ammunition they might need, will make all of these purchases under the same proposed MCC used for gun sales. If anti-Second Amendment extremists get their way, these purchases could then prompt a credit-card company to report the sales to the authorities. Next, a police officer, or an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), might show up at a citizen’s home to find out why they’ve been buying so much stuff from their local “gun store.”
Even if there were some way to ensure only firearm-related purchases are investigated, it would be invasive, and would likely be a waste of government resources, as the vast majority of gun sales are to law-abiding citizens; for example, Americans bought about 19 million guns from federally licensed firearms dealers in 2021. Are authorities going to pester all of these millions of citizens or, perhaps, are they just going to target the ones who bought semi-automatic rifles?
Americans own over 24 million of the semi-automatic rifles that some falsely categorize as “assault weapons.” But, truth be told, most armed criminals use semi-automatic handguns (as do a majority of citizens who buy guns for self-defense), so will the authorities then try to investigate all the people who bought these firearms? Remember, they still will not know what, specifically, was purchased; also, as most criminals use stolen guns or guns purchased on the black market, even if law-enforcement officials had the resources to follow up on all of the sales from stores that sell firearms, they still would not be targeting the problem. But this is fine with gun-control groups, because they want it to be more expensive and difficult for citizens to use their Second Amendment rights.
Of course, a citizen would not have to tell an investigating officer anything—we still have Fifth Amendment rights. Gun-store purchases, however, could be used by the authorities to convince a judge to sign a warrant to search a gun-owner’s home. A credit-card company, or a bank, could also use this information—it presents them with potential risk from lawsuits if they don’t act—to cancel a gun owner’s credit card or deny future sales. So, once again, we’d have law-abiding citizens paying the price for criminal activity that has nothing to do with them.
Indeed, as financial institutions have acted before—and many still do—to prohibit or otherwise impact the financial services that firearms manufacturers and stores need, this proposed code could be used as another way by activist institutions to punish this “politically incorrect” but quite lawful segment of the American marketplace.
All of this potential trouble for gun owners has gun-control zealots excited.
“This approval is an important step towards improving coordination with law enforcement and preventing gun violence,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“I urge credit-card companies to take the next step and flag suspicious transactions on gun and ammunition sales, like they do for fraud and money laundering,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James (D).
What exactly might constitute these “suspicious” sales is a matter of interpretation. But proclamations like these from officials like Gov. Hochul, who has also applauded the proposal, and Attorney General James have weight in the financial sector, as a lot of big banks and credit-card companies are based in New York and so fall under these officials’ jurisdiction.
“Fortunately,” reported NRA-ILA, “the ISO codes are not mandatory for payment processors to adopt. Pro-gun representatives and senators are already working to ask the major payment processors if and how they intend to implement the new code. NRA-ILA is also working on several ways to prevent or reduce implementation of the new MCC.”
In sum, at best, this is an attempt to harass gun owners and treat them like criminals; at worst, this new code, if actually put into use, could be used to make it difficult for gun dealers to stay in business while creating lists of who is buying things at gun stores in America.