Why card networks should embrace gun codes


Adam Skaggs is vice president of the San Francisco-based anti-gun violence advocacy group Giffords Law Center. 

The United States is in the midst of a gun violence epidemic. Every single day more than 100 Americans die from gun violence and in 2021 nearly 50,000 Americans lost their lives. It is incumbent on all of us, including payment processors and the broader financial services industry, to do what we can to combat this epidemic.

Last year, at the urging of Giffords Law Center, Guns Down America and Amalgamated Bank, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) took a big step forward and approved a new merchant category code (MCC) for gun sales. This new code would help law enforcement preempt mass shootings and firearm trafficking by identifying suspicious patterns of firearms and ammunition purchases at federally licensed gun and ammunition dealers.

Adam Skaggs

Adam Skaggs

Permission granted by Mary Yatrousis


Some of the nation’s worst mass shootings, including Aurora, Colorado; San Bernardino, California; Orlando; and Las Vegas involved significant and irregular gun purchases using credit cards, and credit cards have long been used to purchase guns that are illegally trafficked. The new MCC could help identify dangerous patterns of gun purchases, deter trafficking, and potentially stop mass shooters before they act.

But Visa, Mastercard and American Express have not begun using the new MCC, and currently gun and ammo purchases are coded as general merchandise or sporting goods. Because of that, clear warning signs can’t be seen until it’s too late. By simply using the new code, financial institutions could play a crucial role in promoting safety and preventing gun violence, without infringing upon the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

They monitor and routinely flag suspicious activity related to money laundering, international terrorism and human trafficking. There is no reason to treat illegal gun traffickers differently –and better – than human traffickers.

Visa, Mastercard and American Express previously committed to using the new MCC. But, at the bidding of the gun lobby, several extremist right-wing legislators across the country have introduced legislation to prohibit using the code. And in response the leading card companies have announced they’ll pause implementation of the MCC.

They need to stand up to the gun-lobby bullying, do what is right and move forward with adopting the new code. This is no time for political cowardice. Lives are at stake.

Credit card companies have a responsibility to promote safety and prevent harm to their customers and communities. Instituting a gun-specific merchant category code is a crucial step toward that end. While some extremist lawmakers may be pushing back against this proposal, it is essential that the financial industry resist their bullying, prioritize safety and take action to prevent harm.


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