Visa, Mastercard, AmEx to categorize gun shop sales


(NewsNation) — Payment processor Visa Inc. said Saturday that it plans to start separately categorizing sales at gun shops, a major win for gun control advocates who say it will help better track suspicious surges of gun sales that could be a prelude to a mass shooting.

But the decision by Visa, the world’s largest payment processor, will likely provoke the ire of gun rights advocates and gun lobbyists, who have argued that categorizing gun sales would unfairly flag an industry when most sales do not lead to mass shootings. It joins Mastercard and American Express, which also said they plan to move forward with categorizing gun shop sales.

In a statement to NewsNation, National Rifle Association Spokesman, Lars Dalseide, says the move is not about tracking or prevention but about making a registry of gun owners and taking aim at citizen’s rights.

Idaho Senator, Mike Crapo, takes it a step further, tweeting that the decision raises serious privacy concerns. He is worried the payment processing networks might target lawful businesses privacy.

But while some argue another means of surveillance is a violation of personal privacy, in hindsight, tracking credit card purchases may have helped prevent some recent mass shootings.

The Uvalde shooter purchased his weapon with a bank card and the Pulse Nightclub attacker put more than $26,000 in guns on a credit card a week beforehand.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing gun violence.

Purchase codes would likely have done nothing to prevent deadly Route 91 Festival massacre in Las Vegas. The assailant had amassed nearly $100k in guns but none were bought with a card, according to a New York Times investigation.

“It’s not going to stop anything,” Mike Brown, a firearms instructor and criminal justice lecturer, said during Monday’s edition of “Rush Hour”

“It’s just going to make investigations easier in certain respects but you’re not going to able to criminalize ingenuity. And this is just another political work around to avoid talking about the real issues human behavior and what motivates people to get to that trigger point,” Brown said.

Visa said it would adopt the International Organization for Standardization’s new merchant code for gun sales, which was announced on Friday. Until Friday, gun store sales were considered “general merchandise.”

“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,” the payment processor said in a statement.

Visa’s adoption is significant as the largest payment network, and with Mastercard and AmeEx, will likely put pressure on the banks as the card issuers to adopt the standard as well. Visa acts as a middleman between merchants and banks, and it will be up to banks to decide whether they will allow sales at gun stores to happen on their issued cards.

Gun control advocates had gained significant wins on this front in recent weeks. New York City officials and pension funds had pressured the ISO and banks to adopt this code.

Two of the country’s largest public pension funds, in California and New York, have been pressing the country’s largest credit card firms to establish sales codes specifically for firearm-related sales that could flag suspicious purchases or more easily trace how guns and ammunition are sold.

Merchant category codes now exist for almost every kind of purchase, including those made at supermarkets, clothing stores, coffee shops and many other retailers.

“When you buy an airline ticket or pay for your groceries, your credit card company has a special code for those retailers. It’s just common sense that we have the same policies in place for gun and ammunition stores,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who blames the proliferation of guns for deadly violence in his city.

The city’s comptroller, Brad Lander, said it made moral and financial sense as a tool to push back against gun violence.

“Unfortunately, the credit card companies have failed to support this simple, practical, potentially lifesaving tool. The time has come for them to do so,” Lander said recently, before Visa and others had adopted the move.

Lander is a trustee of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System and Board of Education Retirement System — which together own 667,200 shares in American Express valued at approximately $92.49 million; 1.1 million shares in MasterCard valued at approximately $347.59 million; and 1.85 million shares in Visa valued at approximately $363.86 million.

Gun rights advocates argue that tracking sales at gun stores would unfairly target legal gun purchases, since merchant codes just track the type of merchant where the credit or debit card is used, not the actual items purchased. A sale of a gun safe, worth thousands of dollars and an item considered part of responsible gun ownership, could be seen as a just a large purchase at a gun shop.

“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,” Dalseide said to the Associated Press.

Over the years, public pension funds have used their extensive investment portfolios to influence public policy and the marketplace.

The California teacher’s fund, the second largest pension fund in the country, has long taken aim at the gun industry. It has divested its holdings from gun manufacturers and has sought to persuade some retailers from selling guns.

Four years ago, the teacher’s fund made guns a key initiative. It called for background checks and called on retailers to “monitor irregularities at the point of sale, to record all firearm sales, to audit firearms inventory on a regular basis, and to proactively assist law enforcement.”

Associated Press writer Bobby Calvan in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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