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Visa, Mastercard to track all gun store sales nationwide

Credit cards. (Sgt. 1st Class Veshannah Lovelace/U.S. Army)
September 12, 2022

Visa, Mastercard and American Express will begin separately categorizing gun store purchases, opening the door to banks denying such transactions. The move comes after multiple anti-gun lawmakers pressured the major credit card companies to “do more” to track “suspicious purchases” related to firearms. 

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On Friday, Visa announced plans to adopt the International Organization for Standardization’s special merchant code for gun sales, removing gun store sales from the “general merchandise” category, The Associated Press reported

Merchant codes are used to track the type of store where a card is used, not specific items that are purchased. For example, a financial institution will not know if a firearm, ammo, holster, gun safe, etc. was bought, only that something was purchased at a gun store.

Credit cards act as middlemen between stores and banks, and banks will now have to decide if any gun store sales will be allowed, according to the AP.

“Following ISO’s decision to establish a new merchant category code, Visa will proceed with next steps, while ensuring we protect all legal commerce on the Visa network in accordance with our long-standing rules,” Visa said in a statement.

Mastercard and American Express also said they would separately categorize gun store sales. 

“We now turn our focus to how it will be implemented by merchants and their banks as we continue to support lawful purchases on our network while protecting the privacy and decisions of individual cardholders,” a Mastercard spokesperson said, according to Reuters. 

“We are focused on ensuring that we have the right controls in place to meet our regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities, as well as prevent illegal activity on our network,” a spokesperson for American Express said.

Gun rights advocates warn that tracking gun store sales will cause legal purchases to be wrongly targeted.

“The (industry’s) decision to create a firearm specific code is nothing more than a capitulation to anti-gun politicians and activists bent on eroding the rights of law-abiding Americans one transaction at a time,” said Lars Dalseide, a National Rifle Association (NRA) spokesman.

Three days before Visa announced its decision, Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren pressured credit card companies to “identify suspicious purchases” at gun stores. 

“Credit card companies like @Visa, @Mastercard, and @AmericanExpress can and should do more to help stop mass shootings. @RepDean and I are urging these companies to step up and help identify suspicious purchases to prevent gun violence,” Warren tweeted

Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul also pressured the three major credit card companies on Twitter last week, writing, “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. Together we can help stop gun trafficking & keep New Yorkers safe.”

Giffords, an anti-gun organization, also demanded major credit card companies flag some gun and ammo purchases as “suspicious activity.” The group also accused credit card companies of “empowering mass shooters.”