Government and Politics
December 4, 2022
Measure Enables Banks to Monitor Gun and Ammo Retailer Sales for Suspicious Activity & Complements Sen. Gillibrand’s Provisions in Historic Gun Safety Bill
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called for the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to work toward the full implementation of the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) merchant category code (MCC) for gun and ammunition retailers. Implementation of this new monitoring method could help step up enforcement against illegal gun trafficking, prevent gun violence and mass shootings, and save lives.
Senator Gillibrand is requesting that Treasury and the DOJ publish an advisory and establish a policy framework for financial institutions, law enforcement, and retailors regarding the implementation and use of this new MCC and 1) the reporting of suspicious firearm purchases and actions that could constitute illegal gun trafficking, and 2) its role in addressing gun violence and enforcing gun laws.
MCCs are four-digit numbers assigned to credit card transactions that identify the primary purpose of a business. These codes are maintained by the ISO and are consistent with data standards maintained by major payment networks such as Visa and Mastercard. While almost every other category of business has an MCC, gun stores and dealers have historically operated under "sporting goods" or "miscellaneous" designations, making it impossible for law enforcement to monitor suspicious purchasing patterns. In September 2022, the ISO approved the creation of a new MCC for gun and ammunition retailers, giving authorities a powerful new tool to combat gun violence and trafficking when fully implemented.
For decades, financial institutions have been required to submit Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) to the government when they suspect that a purchase is made in furtherance of crimes such as terrorism, human trafficking, and fraud. Now, gun and ammunition stores will be brought into this framework to help financial institutions and law enforcement work together to stop gun crimes and illegal trafficking.
“I am proud that provisions from my anti-gun trafficking bill were included in the bipartisan gun safety package, and this initiative builds on that important work,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Working with financial institutions on a new merchant category code for firearm retailers will help law enforcement monitor suspicious and possible criminal activity. I’m calling on DOJ and Treasury to help implement this new method swiftly and efficiently.”
“We at Amalgamated Bank believe we all have a role to play in preventing gun violence and keeping our communities safe. That’s why we applied for a code that, when combined with other data points, will allow financial institutions to identify patterns of criminal activity and report them to law enforcement. We are grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her long-time leadership in fighting illegal gun trafficking and straw purchases, and for now working to ensure quick and effective implementation of this new datapoint in the effort to prevent gun violence,” said Priscilla Sims Brown, CEO and President of Amalgamated Bank.
“The new merchant category code that Visa, Mastercard, and American Express will be adopting has the potential to save lives and we commend Senator Gillibrand for her leadership in ensuring its widespread and uniform use. Having a separate category for gun purchases will make it possible to flag suspicious activity indicating illegal gun trafficking, straw purchasing, and patterns of stockpiling large amounts of guns and ammunition prior to mass shootings—something we’ve seen far too often. The new code can’t stop any legal gun purchases and won’t infringe anyone’s gun rights. This is a critical safety measure. We urge Visa, Mastercard, and American Express to ignore the gun lobby’s lies and scare tactics, and applaud Senator Gillibrand for having the courage to act,” said Adam Skaggs, Chief Counsel and Policy Director, Giffords Law Center.
If an MCC for gun and ammunition stores had been in place in years past, it may have helped law enforcement stop some of our country’s worst mass shooting tragedies. According to the New York Times, between 2007 and 2018, there were 13 mass shootings that killed 10 or more people. Of those 13 shootings, the killers financed their attacks with credit cards in eight of them.
Senator Gillibrand also noted that implementation of the new MCC will complement the anti-gun trafficking provisions from her Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking and Crime Prevention Act that were included in the historic gun safety bill signed by President Joe Biden – the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. These measures crack down on individuals who engage in gun trafficking and those who sell or deal trafficked firearms, making gun trafficking a stand-alone federal crime. Senator Gillibrand expects the new MCC to enhance the enforcement of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and her anti-gun trafficking provisions.