The Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex isn’t taking the news of America’s credit card issuing companies “pausing” their gun transaction tracking efforts very well. They had dreams of regular Suspicious Activity Reports flooding into ATF from Visa, Mastercard, Discover and Amex, paving the way for eventual de facto registration of all legal gun purchases. And if the processing companies — with some help form gun regulators — could ID “suspicious” buyers, it’s not much of a leap to expect them to (one day) decline their purchases.
But a funny thing happened on the way to privatized Operation Choke Point nirvana. The card processors didn’t like the amount of heat they were feeling from state and federal elected officials over the privacy-destroying plan.
Bills have been introduced in a number of states banning use of the new gun store Merchant Category Code. State Attorneys General were asking for and getting in-person meetings with card processing company executives to register their Second Amendment concerns about purchase tracking. And action on the federal level was being threatened, too.
Never mind the not-so-small detail that none of the companies have the ability to identify exactly what’s being purchased in any particular credit card transaction, a fact that Visa’s former CEO admitted before caving to the anti-gunners’ demands.
Not only were they subjected to the usual and entirely predictable name-calling from the usual suspects— shameful, complicit in future shootings, yadda, yadda, yadda — but now they’re being “urged” to reconsider…this time by a bunch of blue-state anti-gun AGs, let by New Jersey’s Matthew Platkin.
If you had the chance to prevent a mass shooting, would you? @Amex, @Mastercard, @Discover, and @Visa are saying NO. Today, we’re urging them to honor their pledge to adopt a new merchant code that would help flag suspicious gun sales and save lives. https://t.co/abK4kSXHAs
— Attorney General Matt Platkin (@NewJerseyOAG) March 16, 2023
Platkin issued this press release . . .
Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today led a coalition of Attorneys General from across the nation in condemning four of the world’s largest credit card companies —Visa, American Express, Mastercard, and Discover — for walking back their commitment to implement a new merchant code for gun sales that would help prevent mass shootings and curb gun violence.
In September, three of the credit card giants —Visa, American Express, and MasterCard —publicly announced plans to add a new merchant code for gun retailers to the hundreds already used to categorize merchant sales. The creation of the new code had been approved earlier that month by the Switzerland-based International Organization for Standardization to allow financial institutions to better detect and report suspicious activities related to the purchase of firearms and ammunition at standalone gun retail stores. In February 2023, Discover announced that it too would begin using the new code.
But in an abrupt about-face last week, all four companies announced they were putting the brakes on implementing the code, citing legislative bills in several states seeking to bar or limit the use of the voluntary code as a supposed incursion on Second Amendment rights.
Today, Attorney General Platkin joined District of Columbia Attorney General Brian Schwalb, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, and Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell in leading a multistate coalition of 14 Attorneys General denouncing that decision as unjustifiable.
In a letter sent to the chief executives of Visa, American Express, Mastercard, and Discover today, the Attorneys General accused the companies of capitulating to political pressure cloaked in specious legal arguments and amorphous veiled threats from certain state Attorneys General.
“We see no valid reason why these companies, who process millions of transactions in firearms, ammunitions, gun kits, and more, would renege on their pledge to take simple, commonsense steps to help flag potential gun traffickers and mass shooters,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Applying a merchant code is hardly an invitation to violate the Second Amendment, but failing to apply it is an invitation to criminals to purchase firearm products with impunity and commit violent acts in our communities. We implore Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and American Express to stand up and make good on their pledge to help protect against gun violence. Their actions can help prevent innocent school children and others from dying needlessly at the hands of a gunman.”
In the letter, the Attorneys General remind the credit card companies that the newly created code for gun stores is hardly an extraordinary development. They’re already using them to categorize basic transactions for everyday items like flowers and groceries, and already have hundreds of retailer codes for everything from stamp shops and wig stores to car rental agencies and various government services.
The new code simply creates a unique merchant category for gun stores, which previously were categorized as “sporting goods stores” or “general merchandise.”
The new code, narrowly tailored so that it applies only to purchases made at independently-owned gun retail shops, will have no bearing on an individual’s ability to lawfully purchase firearms, the letter states. It will, however, help financial institutions and law enforcement agencies identify individuals engaging in unlawful transactions, including the purchase of prohibited firearms such as ghost guns or assault weapons; straw buyers engaged in trafficking; and high-risk purchasers trying to avoid detection in amassing an arsenal that could be used for mass shootings.
Enabling financial institutions to detect and flag threatening patterns and potential criminal activity for law enforcement is nothing new, as they’ve been doing it for decades, the letter points out.
For instance, federal law requires Suspicious Activity Reports when banks “detect a known or suspected violation of Federal law or a suspicious transaction related to a money laundering activity or a violation of the Bank Secrecy Act,” the letter states. And state and federal law enforcement agencies often request evidence relating to firearms or other investigations. But the ability of financial institutions or law enforcement to take steps against criminal gun purchases is hampered by the lack of a dedicated code for firearm and ammunition retailers, the letter asserts.
Last fall, Attorney General Platkin co-led a group of 11 Attorneys General in supporting Visa, American Express, and Mastercard’s publicly stated plans to adopt the new merchant code.
In a letter sent to company executives on September 20, 2022, the Attorneys General commended the credit card industry’s then-willingness to step up and do its part to protect communities and eradicate gun violence across the United States.
In today’s letter, the Attorneys General urged the companies to stay true to that commitment and not cave under political pressure and unfounded legal threats. To do so would set a precedent that invites further interference in lawful, protected business practices, they said.
“We hope and expect you will reconsider your decision and not abandon your public commitments. Should you fail to do so, your complicity with ongoing needless gun tragedies will lead us to consider further actions,” the letter concludes.
Joining Attorneys General Platkin, Schwalb, Jennings and Campbell in signing the letter are the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
So the credit card companied have been made a couple of offers, neither of which they can refuse. Youse (sic) can push ahead with the gun purchase tracking that those in the gun control industry — along with their friends in government and the media — really want to see happen. That, however, seems sure to result in legislation, not to mention “significant confusion and legal uncertainty.”
On the other hand, youse can kill the gun store merchant tracking code and risk what happens when you disappoint capos like Matthew Platkin.
NJ AG Matt Platkin to the Major Credit Card Companies: “…your complicity with ongoing needless gun tragedies will lead us to consider further actions.”
Oh, look, not-so-thinly veiled threats for not agreeing to meld corporate and state power. This is not surprising. pic.twitter.com/EMQAaxvL0R
— Firearms Policy Coalition (@gunpolicy) March 16, 2023
Good luck, credit card company CEOs. It seems it’s not easy doing business in a hyper-politicized world where authoritarians in government are determined to enlist the help of private companies to do what they can’t accomplish through the regular legislative, law-making process.