(Editor’s note: This is the latest column by Larry Keane, SVP for Government & Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association of the firearms industry.)
Amalgamated Bank CEO Priscilla Sims Brown isn’t shy about catering to Democratic politics and progressive causes. The New York Post even described her as “the Left’s private banker.”
Sims Brown is especially proud of herself after she lobbied the main international credit card standards organization to create a special tracking code for gun store purchases. She wants to know who’s buying what and why. It’s a ruse under the guise of stopping criminals from misusing firearms.
Fortunately for law-abiding Americans who support the Second Amendment, lawmakers at the state and federal level are saying “Not so fast,” and proposing legislation to block the tracking of such lawful purchases.
What’s In Your Shopping Cart?
Sims Brown’s goal is to have credit cards implement a special code to track purchases made by law-abiding Americans at firearm retail stores. She urged the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to create a Merchant Category Code (MCC) and they acquiesced. She spoke with New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin – a proponent of the scheme – and admitted the code is only the beginning. “We’re at the very early stages of this –,” Sims Brown told Sorkin. “But as this is implemented, those scenarios will be used.”
The “scenarios” include “detection scenarios” in which a purchase prompts a bank to file a Suspicious Activity Report to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). There have been no guidelines on what any of that means or what purchases would be flagged. That’s because the MCC won’t identify what is in the customer’s shopping basket. The customer could have passed an FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) verification to lawfully buy a firearm and ammunition. Or the purchase could be for camping supplies, waders, decoys, blinds and other outdoor gear for a hunting trip. The total cost could be flagged as “suspicious” since it might be an outlier on a customer’s purchase history.
Bloomberg News – owned by gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg – even threw cold water on the idea, saying the code wouldn’t work. “The payment network and its banking partners would have no idea if a gun-store customer is purchasing…a rifle or safety equipment.”
Credit Card CEOs Respond
The new MCC for gun store purchases was approved in September of last year so the implementation process is still under development. Still, some of the CEOs at major credit card companies are speaking up.
Discover announced it will begin using the gun store-specific code in April, becoming the first major credit card company to confirm they’ll use the code. Discover has the smallest market share of the four major credit card companies by far at about four percent and other estimates put it at just two percent, but the move is still significant.
In announcing they will use the code, a Discover spokesperson was coy. “We remain focused on continuing to protect and support lawful purchases on our network while protecting the privacy of cardholders,” said a statement. “We were following the industry for consistent implementation.”
The Discover spokesperson also let it slip that other credit card companies will roll out their MCC gun store codes. That includes Visa’s CEO Al Kelly. Kelly explained that the new codes won’t be as effective in flagging purchases as antigun activists have claimed.
“If [Visa’s Chief Communications Officer] K.C. Kavanagh goes into a gun store and buys three thermoses and a tent, and you go in and buy a rifle and five rounds of ammunition, all I know is you both went to the same gun store… But I don’t know what you bought,” Kelly said.
On Visa’s website, a statement reads, “Many are advocating the use of MCCs to track gun sales as a potential tool in combating gun violence. That’s not what merchant codes are designed for, nor should they be.”
Mastercard and American Express have yet to comment in more specifics about their plans to implement the tracking code.
There’s good news for supporters of the Second Amendment and those concerned about government agencies tracking their completely lawful behavior. Mississippi, West Virginia and Florida are leading the way with legislation to block the tracking scheme.
In Mississippi, a bill is pending to preclude the use of the gun store MCC. House Bill 1110 was already approved overwhelmingly by the Mississippi House of Representatives, 87-26. The bill is expected to move swiftly through the state Senate.
In Florida, the Republican-controlled Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved Senate Bill 214 that would target yet-to-be-enacted plans by some credit-card companies to create a gun store MCC. That bill would even fine credit card companies up to $10,000 per violation.
In West Virginia, Republican state Treasurer Riley Moore spoke of efforts to block the code as well, praising the House of Delegates for approving legislation that would ban any credit card company that tracks gun and ammunition purchases from bidding on state contracts.
There is also a buzz in Washington, D.C., as efforts to block the tracking code on a federal level are gaining steam, even as Members of Congress and U.S. Senators back other efforts to ensure financial companies cannot discriminate against the lawful and Constitutionally-protected firearm industry.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) introduced the Firearm Industry Nondiscrimination (FIND) Act that would end the ability of corporate entities from profiting from taxpayer-funded federal contracts while discriminating against a constitutionally-protected industry at the same time. The same legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.).
Also in the upper chamber, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introduced the Fair Access to Banking Act, S. 293. That bill would work to end the discriminatory lending practices of major banking institutions that seek to circumvent the legislative process and set social policy from the boardroom.
As these legislative efforts continue to block boardroom gun control, NSSF will be watching closely.