Visa, Mastercard to begin marking gun sales as a separate sales category

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Gun sales will be specifically earmarked in transaction histories, Visa Inc. announced on Sept. 10. It’s a decision that will (hopefully) prevent these purchases from flying under the radar of investigators and help pinpoint suspicious sales surges. The change was also adopted by credit giants MasterCard and American Express.

The decision comes after a Sept. 9 announcement by the International Standards Organization, a global body that establishes standards across the financial services industry, that gun and ammunition merchandisers would be recategorized with their own commerce codes. Previously, these sales were lumped in with “general merchandise” or “miscellaneous” sales, or categorized under “sporting good stores” in a kind of recreational gray area. Now, the four-digit code for gun and ammunition sales will explicitly state the customer’s transaction.

According to Guns Down America, a national gun violence prevention organization focused on legislative advocacy and reducing gun sales, many of the nation’s worst mass shooting events — like those in Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, and Las Vegas — involved electronic payments for weapons and ammunition. Just in 2022, there have been more than 39,000 gun-related deaths and 425 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

In the eyes of many gun reform activists, the new categorization rules may make it much easier to record and track suspicious gun sales and help reduce overall gun crime. The decision itself was spurred by a coalition of gun reform organizations and supporters, including Guns Down America, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Brady United, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, and Amalgamated Bank.

“Credit card companies have rules to stop fraud and human trafficking. This common-sense decision means the same rules will apply to guns, making it easier to stop illegal firearms-related activity,” said Igor Volsky, Founder and Executive Director of Guns Down America, in a statement following the announcement.

Congressional Democrats may also be celebrating, after providing additional pressure on the international organization to adopt such a change. On Sept. 1, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Madeline Dean sent a letter to American Express CEO Stephen Squeri, urging him to support the creation of a new merchant category code for gun retailers. In a CBS News investigation from June, it was revealed that industry leaders had previously blocked an application to create such avenues for oversight submitted by Amalgamated Bank in 2021.

Now, it appears the industry as a whole is moving towards closer monitoring of the more than 9,000 standalone U.S. gun sellers who currently do not have a specific merchant code for their industry.

“We could identify and detect where there may be gun sales that are intended for black markets, where we see patterns of gun purchases being made in multiple gun shops. We could see the patterns of behavior that would indicate to us that there is something not right here,” explained Amalgamated Bank CEO Priscilla Sims Brown to CBS News during its investigation. “We have an obligation to address crime that is being facilitated through our system.”

Mandated by federal law, gun sales have to be recorded by licensed merchants and retained until their business is discontinued, but this doesn’t apply to private sellers, nor does the information get stored in any kind of federal central database, the Giffords Law Center explains. Additionally, federal background checks for gun sales have to be destroyed after 24 hours and in-state checks abide by various, non-standardized laws. All of this makes tracking sales more difficult.

Following Visa, MasterCard, and American Express’ announcement, major banking institutions will now have to decide if they’ll adopt the standard and monitor gun purchases, as well.

And while many gun lobbyists angered by the proposed change will likely cling to the complaint that it’s unfairly singling out one industry, gun reform activists are already pressing on with their calls for greater federal oversight to address the nation’s gun violence crisis.





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