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American Express, Visa and Mastercard move forward with code to track purchases at California gun stores

Major credit card companies are set to make a merchant code available to gun and ammunition retailers to comply with a new California law that will allow banks to potentially track suspicious weapons purchases and report them to law enforcement, CBS News has learned.

Retailers are assigned merchant codes based on the types of products they sell, and these codes allow banks and credit card companies to detect purchasing habits. Currently, gun stores are grouped with other types of retailers, such as sporting goods stores.

Mastercard, Visa and American Express initially agreed to implement a standalone code for gun sellers, but later interrupted their work on this after receiving backlash from Second Amendment supporters, they feared that tracking gun purchases would infringe on the rights of legal gun owners.

Gun control activists hope the code, approved by an international organization in 2022, can be used as a tool to identify suspicious purchases and therefore stop gun crime, including mass shootings. Supporters say a code for gun dealers would allow banks and credit unions to alert law enforcement of potentially suspicious purchasing patterns in the same way they already report other types of transactions, such as those suggesting identity theft or terrorist financing.

While a merchant code for sellers of autonomous firearms and ammunition would provide data showing that a transaction was made at a gun store, credit card companies say the code would not provide customer details or information about individual items purchased.

At least seven Republican-controlled state legislatures have banned the code while nine other legislatures are considering similar legislation. However, deep blue California passed a law requiring retailers that primarily sell firearms to adopt it by May 2025.

Last month, executives from Mastercard, Visa and American Express each wrote to congressional Democrats to assure them that the code would be available to California retailers before that deadline, according to documents obtained by CBS News.

“Applicable self-employed merchants in California whose primary business is the sale of firearms will be required to use the code,” wrote Mastercard executive Tucker Foote.

The letters from credit card executives reflect the difficult political waters in which the companies find themselves.

“With respect to the (firearms dealer code), there continues to be tremendous regulatory and legislative uncertainty,” wrote Visa senior vice president Robert B. Thomson III, adding that the company s will endeavor to comply with California requirements. “Given the conflicting state laws on this topic and the likelihood that other states will pass laws to restrict or impose the code, our pause on implementation remains in effect.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement: “It’s a start that credit card companies have committed to complying with the (Merchant Code) law in California, but we must implement across the country if we want to do it. everything we can to prevent gun violence. »

“The sooner credit card companies and banks start using the new (merchant code) for gun retailers and tracking suspicious gun purchases, the better chance we have of preventing mass shootings before they happen,” Warren added.

Gun violence prevention advocates continue to push for implementation of the code despite states’ efforts to prevent it. A new report from Guns Down America calls for federal legislation to resolve interstate conflict and says the code could prevent violence resulting from straw purchases, gun trafficking and mass casualty events.

The report cites eight mass shootings that it says could have been prevented, including the Aurora, Colorado, movie shooting and the Filming at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Floridaas each author used credit cards to purchase large arsenals in a short period of time.

“If a system for collecting and reporting suspicious gun and ammunition sales had been in place over the past 15 years, law enforcement would have had the opportunity to intervene and prevent multiple mass shootings. mass,” the report said.

Hudson Munoz, executive director of Guns Down America, said attempts by credit card companies to “remain neutral on this issue” risked “unbridled criminal abuse of the payment system.” The organization is calling on companies to make the gun store code available in all states where it has not been banned.

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