Gun Control Activists Say Credit Card Companies Must Help Law Enforcement 'Preempt Mass Shootings'

By Susan Jones | September 12, 2022 | 8:03am EDT
A gun store in Houston, Texas. (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)
A gun store in Houston, Texas. (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

( - Some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings involved credit card payments, so gun control activists are demanding that credit card companies "take bolder steps to ensure bad actors are not exploiting our nation's financial system to carry out mass shootings and illicitly traffic firearms.”

"We demand that you play your part in helping keep your customers, employees, and communities safe from gun violence," says the letter sent to Visa, American Express and Mastercard by a coalition of gun control groups, including the Brady Campaign.

Those groups say the credit card companies are now poised to adopt a new Merchant Category Code (MCC) for the country's 9,000 federally licensed gun and ammunition dealers.

According to Citibank, which has published a list of Merchant Category Codes, MCCs are used by credit card companies to classify merchants and businesses by the type of goods or services provided. They can be used to "categorize, track and restrict transactions.” They can also be used "for tax reporting, interchange promotion and gathering information about cardholder purchasing behavior."

So the new MCC for gun stores apparently means anyone who uses a credit card for large purchases at those establishments could potentially be flagged.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry trade association, opposes the creation of special purchasing codes for firearms and ammunition, rather than using the current "sporting goods" MCC.

"The idea is that credit card companies would monitor individual purchases by law-abiding citizens and if they seem to out of the norm, those purchases would be reported to law enforcement for investigation," NSSF said in a recent posting.

"What it really is, is privatized gun control that runs roughshod over rights and the law. The 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act forbids the federal government from maintaining a gun registry. Banks are already required to report suspicious activity under the 1970 Banking Secrecy Act and expanded with the Patriot Act.

"This idea, though, would put that into private hands, building a registry one purchase at a time. The basis for suspicious activity would simply be exercising the pre-existing right to keep and bear arms, which is expressly protected by the Constitution."

NSSF concluded: "This idea isn’t about improving public safety. This proposal is about freezing gun purchases and getting corporate entities to skirt federal laws. This is nothing short of swiping the ability to legally buy guns."

In a September 2 letter to credit card CEOs, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) urged support for the new MCC.

As they explained:

"The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) maintains a series of merchant category codes (MCC), four-digit codes that classify merchants by their purpose of business. The ISO sets forth criteria that the internal review committee, which includes representatives from Mastercard, Visa, and American Express, must use when evaluating applications for new MCCs.

"A 2021 application from Amalgamated Bank (AB) for a new MCC for gun and ammunition retailers was denied, as was their following appeal. AB resubmitted an application in June of 2022 and expects a decision in September when the committee is set to reconvene."

One week later, on Sept. 9, the application for a new MCC was approved.

The Warren/Dean letter quoted one gun control activist as saying that banks should report "dangerous warning signs to law enforcement when extremists are quickly building up massive stockpiles of guns," but first those gun store transactions must have a "unique identifier," said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Of course, not all gun store transactions involve guns or ammunition. Gun safes, for example, may cost thousands of dollars.

Gun control activists hailed the ISO's decision to go ahead with the new MCC, and now they're urging swift implementation:

“We are grateful for the work of Amalgamated Bank in making this happen," said Igor Volsky, Founder and Executive Director of Guns Down America. "Now we will work to make sure the credit card companies implement these new changes without delay.”

“The epidemic of gun violence in America continues to worsen, and requires that we leave no stone unturned in seeking to save lives," said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "We therefore commend Amalgamated Bank for its courageous leadership in demonstrating that the financial industry, too, has a part to play. Creating a dedicated merchant category code for gun sales is only the first step, though, and we look forward to working with Visa, Mastercard, and American Express to ensure swift efforts to ensure uniform and comprehensive use of this new code.”

“We all have to do our part to stop gun violence,” said Priscilla Sims Brown, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank. “And it sometimes starts with illegal purchases of guns and ammunition. The new code will allow us to fully comply with our duty to report suspicious activity and illegal gun sales to authorities without blocking or impeding legal gun sales. This action answers the call of millions of Americans who want safety from gun violence and we are proud to lead a broad coalition of advocates, shareholders, and elected officials to achieve this historic outcome."

“We’re thankful to Amalgamated Bank for their leadership on establishing a merchant category code for firearms dealers,” said Kris Brown, Brady President. “This small change to business practices will help identify illegal or suspicious activity to stop shootings before they happen and save lives. We call on financial institutions to work with us to institute these new changes.”

MRC Store