New Credit Card Code for Gun Store Sales
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted a new credit card Merchant Category Code for firearms on Sep. 9, 2022. Some American credit card companies have indicated they will enact the code.
The code will mark card sales of guns and ammunition at gun stores. Codes mark every card transaction from movie theater tickets to hair salon visits. Gun sales have thus far been categorized as “general merchandise” or “sporting goods.”
The code was championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, as well as gun control groups Guns Down America, Giffords, Brady, and New Yorkers against Gun Violence, among others.
Amalgamated Bank, working in concert with gun control advocates, first applied to the ISO for the code in the summer of 2021. Priscilla Sims Brown, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, stated, “We all have to do our part to stop gun violence. 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.”
A Dec. 2018, New York Times investigation found “13 shootings that killed 10 or more people in the last decade, and in at least eight of them, the killers financed their attacks using credit cards. Some used credit to acquire firearms they could not otherwise have afforded. Those eight shootings killed 217 people.” For example, Omar Matteen, who killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in the Pulse nightclub shooting opened six new credit cards over eight months and spent $26,532 on “a Sig Sauer MCX .223-caliber rifle, a Glock 17 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, several large magazines, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a $7,500 ring for his wife that he bought on a jewelry store card.” Prior to the shooting, Matteen’s spending averaged about $1,500 a month on a single card.
Gun control advocates believe that the code could help stem gun violence by using a 2001 law that requires financial organizations to flag suspicious activity. The law was passed after 9/11 to fight domestic terrorism.
Whether the card companies will use the code remains to be seen. A Mastercard spokesperson indicated the company would wait to see how banks and gun retailers implemented the code, as they would for any other code. While Senior Vice President of Visa, Robert B. Thomson III, stated, “We believe that asking payment networks to serve as a moral authority by deciding which legal goods can or cannot be purchased sets a dangerous precedent.”
That sentiment echoes those of gun rights activists. The NRA stated, “This is not about tracking or prevention or any virtuous motivation — it’s about creating a national registry of gun owners.”
1. Should gun and ammunition purchases have a unique credit card code? Why or why not?
2. Should financial companies be responsible for alerting law enforcement about unusual purchases of guns and ammunition? Why or why not?
3. Should mass shootings be classified as domestic terrorism? Why or why not?
1. Ramishah Maruf, “Credit Card Companies Will Adopt New Sales Code for Gun Transactions,” cnn.com, Sep. 11, 2022
2. Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Credit Card Sales at Gun Stores Would Be Flagged under New Code,” nytimes.com, Sep. 9, 2022
3. Guns Down America, “Victory! Gun Violence Prevention Groups and Amalgamated Bank Applaud New Method for Financial System to Crack Down on Mass Shootings and Gun Trafficking,” gunsdownamerica.org, Sep. 9, 2022
4. Andrew Ross Sorkin, “How Banks Unwittingly Finance Mass Shootings,” nytimes.com, Dec. 24, 2018