The group that oversees credit card merchant codes agreed to create one for gun stores on Friday.
As first reported by Reuters, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has created a specific code for arms stores. As is the case with most specialty stores, purchases made at weapon stores will now be listed on bank statements. Visa, Master Card and American Express announced that they would start using the new code on Saturday, according to the Associate Press.
It doesn’t seem so controversial at first glance. After all, almost every industry has a merchant code. And it may end up not being very controversial if things don’t get past that first step.
However, this is only the first step for the people behind this change. And it’s one that gun control advocates have been pursuing for years. It’s part of a larger, albeit half-done, attempt to monitor and examine gun sales.
Amalgamated Bank, an activist financial institution with deep ties to liberal interest groups, including major gun control groups, has long pushed the ISO to adopt a specific arms dealer code. This decision had been pushed back by opposition from other financial institutions, including major credit card companies. But they received additional support of Democratic politicians during his last successful campaign.
The purpose of this decision is to create a sort of private surveillance system for the firearms trade in the United States. The general hope is that banks will use the new code to monitor “suspicious” buying habits and then report their own customers to authorities for further investigation. The idea was inspired by a 2018 New York Times report about how mass shooters used credit cards to buy their guns.
“We all need to do our part to stop gun violence,” said Priscilla Sims Brown, president of Amalgamated. The temperature Friday. “The new code will enable us to fully comply with our obligation to report suspicious activity and illegal arms sales to authorities without blocking or impeding legal arms sales.”
There are, however, several problems with this approach. The first, as Ms. Brown’s quote illustrates, is that the code will not help banks determine whether a sale at a gun store is illegal. That’s why we have FBI background checks on all sales made by these arms dealers.
In fact, it won’t even track actual gun sales. It will track all sales made at stores designated under the new code, which likely won’t be all stores selling firearms. Much, perhaps most, of gun sales in America are, like most things, done through big-box retailers.
It’s unclear whether the ISO will reclassify retailers like Cabelas, Dick’s Sporting Goods or Sportsman’s Warehouse.
Even if they are, the merchant code itself gives no insight into what a credit card customer is actually buying at a store. The code does not give detailed information about what the customer has purchased. $5,000 spent in Cabelas could be for a high-end rifle, a dozen less expensive guns, an expensive barbecue or a few kayaks. Likewise, the same amount spent in an Armory can be spent on a Large Safe, a Collectible Weapon, or a number of other commodities.
It’s hard to imagine a pattern that could be identified through the use of merchant codes that catches potentially dangerous people (who pass background checks to legally buy guns or, perhaps, don’t buy no weapons at all in this scenario) without also entangling a large number of innocent people. This is especially true when identifying potential mass shooters (which remain statistically rare) through their credit card use, as suggested by The temperature.
Their reports indicate that one of the shooters, whose name I will not repeat here, purchased three guns in two months. They spent $11,000 on several different cards and retailers for things that included slings and paper targets. A different shooter bought two guns, magazines and a few thousand rounds in a week.
In a country where over a hundred million people own over 400 million guns and Americans hold a total of $841 billion in credit card debt, it’s just not that unusual for people fund thousands of dollars in gun-related purchases over the course of a few weeks or months. It may not be a good financial idea to finance the purchase of guns, but it is not the slightest evidence of wrongdoing.
The whole ploy strikes me as similar to noticing that mass shooters often use cars to get to where they are carrying out their attacks and then try to get the auto industry to screen all buyers to see if they own a firearm, and then to report all such weapons – the property of car buyers – to the police in case they turn out to be a mass shooter. It doesn’t make much sense, and all you’ll end up accomplishing is overloading the police with useless leads.
And reporting tens or hundreds of thousands of customers a year to the police on the extremely dubious thought that spending a random amount of money at a gun store (for things that might not even be guns) doesn’t seem like a particularly good business practice to me. His unlikely clients will appreciate being reported to the police on such flimsy evidence. Visa’s initial comments on the change indicate that they have no plans to make it. At least not on purpose.
“Following ISO’s decision to establish a new merchant category code, Visa will move forward with the next steps, while ensuring that all legal commerce on the Visa network is protected in accordance with our long-standing rules,” said the payment processor. told the Associated Press.
But that’s only the first step in what gun control advocates ultimately want to see. As the Times explains in its 2018 article, trying to follow some sort of predictive pattern of gun purchases for mass shooters would require much more invasive tracking of all gun sales by the financial sector. The bank would need to know not only that you were buying something from a gun store, but also what exactly you were buying. And you’d have to cross-check those purchases with any other gun-related purchases you’ve made with your credit and debit cards from other banks.
Moreover, the process would likely require government guidance, as has been the case with reporting fraud or tracking terrorist financing. The larger vision appears to be to create a public-private surveillance system that tracks the gun buying habits of every credit and debit card customer in the country.
Failing that, the Commercial Code also makes it easier to put pressure on banks to stop using their financial products to buy from gunsmiths. Private and public actors have been trying for decades to get banks to cut funding to gun manufacturers and dealers, with varying degrees of success. The move also simplifies the removal of financing for gun buyers, although this may prove to be a much more demanding request from banks given the importance of consumer lending to their core businesses.
Adopting a merchant code for gun stores is unlikely to be enough on its own. But if these other steps fall into place, the most likely result will be new suspicions cast upon large numbers of gun buyers with little real impact on preventing gun crime or mass shootings. It could also further limit Americans’ ability to access firearms through the same financial institutions they use for the vast majority of their other purchases.