Three credit card companies announced in September they will voluntarily comply with a request from Democrats to create a system to identify gun and ammunition sales.
In letters to the CEOs of Visa, Mastercard and American Express, Democratic lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, joined in urging credit card companies to create a new merchant code to differentiate gun and ammunition sales from other purchases.
The lawmakers wrote in their letter that "shooters in at least five major mass shootings between 2007 and 2020 financed their massacres using credit cards."
All three companies responded quickly, in about a week, and announced they’d create a code to track gun sales.
“I think it's a welcome development. I think it's important that we know what people are purchasing and you know, they have special codes for what you purchase on food and other things,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said.
In June, the Biden administration celebrated signing the most significant piece of gun reform legislation in over 30 years, a bipartisan gun safety measure known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Democrats are considering the creation of the new merchant code another triumph, but Republicans call it as a threat to Second Amendment rights, alleging that it opens the door to corporate surveillance.
“This is a major cave to the anti-Second Amendment lobby. I mean, they have been advocating for this for years," Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. said in September. "And what it does is it allows these big credit card companies and big banks if they get in on this, to figure out who's buying firearms, to figure out who's selling firearms."
During a recent hearing for the House Committee on Financial Services, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, made similar statements during his questioning of witnesses from several major banking institutions.
“The problem with these new classification codes is that determining what is suspicious is a subjective exercise. And anyone who is against the rights of gun owners will want your institutions to flag every single transaction with a gun MCC to law enforcement,” Williams said.
Visa and Mastercard are trying to make their decision clear a month after the MCC code was implemented. Visa referred Spectrum News to a blog post, which says "Many misunderstand what that means and are, in turn, advocating the use of MCCs to “track” gun sales as a potential tool in combating gun violence. That’s not what merchant codes are designed for, nor should they be.`
Visa says "MCCs already exist for hundreds of different businesses," already used by people including beauty salons and bookstores among others as "they are four-digit category codes used only to classify the type of business a retailer operates," they wrote.
Mastercard is also trying to make several points clear by saying “Your privacy is our priority”, “we allow all lawful purchases” and “what you buy is your business,” adding: “We do not track individual or personal data."