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New York lawmakers ask Mastercard and American Express to flag gun store purchases

New York lawmakers believe they have found a way to reduce firearm trafficking and mass shootings. Approximately 50 legislators penned a letter to Mastercard and American Express, requesting that the companies flag purchases made at gun stores.

Democratic state Senator Zellnor Myrie shared the letter with Gothamist and spoke about leading the effort. Myrie explained that he believed the public would agree with the lawmakers’ request.

While credit card companies do not track specific items purchased, they do use merchant category codes designated by retailer type. Mastercard’s quick reference booklet notes that purchases made at a gun store fall under the “miscellaneous” or “durable goods” retailer codes. Those two MCCs also include vendors of gas lighting fixtures, musical instruments, fireworks, party supplies, and luggage, to name a few.

The letter drafted to Mastercard and American Express requested that gun retailers have their own merchant category code instead of sharing it with other non-firearm-related vendors. This modification would allow credit card companies – and, consequently, the government – to closely track firearm and ammunition purchases.

Myrie told Gothamist that he thinks “people would be shocked” to learn that gun retailers do not have their own MCC designation.

New York legislators argued that plenty of other retailers have a unique code, such as pawn shops, aquariums, and antique shops. They also noted that credit card companies have already been required to report suspicious activity to law enforcement since 1970.

Myrie argued that a one-of-a-kind code would help authorities to spot suspicious purchasing activity, which could prevent mass shootings and gun trafficking. Further, he stated that law-abiding citizens have “absolutely nothing to worry about.”

The letter cited eight examples of shootings the legislators believe might have been stopped with close monitoring of credit card activity.

New York’s Assembly Member Chantel Jackson (D) told PoliticsNY, “We need financial institutions to step up and join the fight against gun violence by creating a distinct MCC for firearm sales. Doing so could permit law enforcement to intervene before bloodshed occurs.”

The goal for New York lawmakers is to require credit card companies to flag “suspicious” purchasing activity. Gothamist cited making a substantial purchase at one or more locations in a short period of time as an example of suspicious purchasing activity that a credit card company would be expected to flag.

“This, I think, is simply using every tool that we have to help to stem gun violence,” Myrie said. “And frankly, I’m not sure why anyone would be opposed to this, outside of trying to avoid controversy or the politics.”

The National Rifle Association expressed concern that a separate code for gun retailers would create a “de facto firearm registration” that could be used later to violate Second Amendment rights.