Visa Inc to start categorising gun sales at US stores

Advocates say the move will help track suspicious surges of gun sales that could be a prelude to a mass shooting.

Visa Inc says it will implement a new merchant category code that will identify transactions at gun shops in the United States.

Saturday’s announcement from the world’s largest payment processor marked a big win for activists who have argued that categorising gun sales separately will help better track suspicious firearms purchases that could be a prelude to a mass shooting.

It came a day after the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) approved the creation of the new code.

“Following ISO’s decision to establish a new merchant category code, Visa will proceed with next steps, while ensuring we protect all legal commerce on the Visa network in accordance with our long-standing rules,” Visa said in a statement.

Credit card processors use codes to identify sales by sector such as grocery stores, restaurants and more. Until Friday, gun store sales were considered “general merchandise”.

The new code would help monitors track where an individual spends money, but would not show what specific items were purchased.

Mastercard Inc has also said it will also implement the new code.

Following ISO’s approval on Friday, Mastercard Inc said “we now turn our focus to how it will be implemented by merchants and their banks as we continue to support lawful purchases on our network while protecting the privacy and decisions of individual cardholders”.

American Express Co had said earlier that when the ISO develops a new code, the company will work with third-party processors and partners on implementation.

Gun control advocates had been pressuring the ISO and banks to adopt this code.

They have cited examples such as the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people died after an assailant opened fire in 2016. A week before that attack, the shooter used credit cards to buy more than $26,000 worth of guns and ammunition, including purchases at a stand-alone gun retailer.

“When you buy an airline ticket or pay for your groceries, your credit card company has a special code for those retailers. It’s just common sense that we have the same policies in place for gun and ammunition stores,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who blames the proliferation of guns for his city’s deadly violence.

Two of the US’s largest public pension funds, in California and New York, had also submitted shareholder resolutions asking payments companies to weigh in on the issue.

Gun rights advocates, however, argue that tracking sales at gun stores would unfairly target legal gun purchases since merchant codes just track the type of merchant where the credit or debit card is used, not the actual items purchased.

A sale of a gun safe, worth thousands of dollars and an item considered part of responsible gun ownership, could be seen as just a large purchase at a gun shop.

“The [industry’s] decision to create a firearm-specific code is nothing more than a capitulation to anti-gun politicians and activists bent on eroding the rights of law-abiding Americans, one transaction at a time,” said Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.

Mass shootings this year, including one at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers, have added to the long-running US debate over gun control.

US President Joe Biden has called for Congress to pass an assault weapons ban as well as $37bn for crime prevention programmes, with $13bn to hire and train an additional 100,000 police officers over the next five years.

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