A move by Visa and other major credit card companies to identify purchases at gun stores has inflamed Republican lawmakers, who warn that it will lead to widespread corporate surveillance and the suppression of Second Amendment rights. And they’re poised to make a campaign issue out of it.
The new merchant code would identify retailers that primarily sell firearms and ammunition. While it stops short of pinpointing what’s been purchased, Democrats and activists pushing for gun restrictions say it will help law enforcement spot suspicious transactions that contribute to mass shootings and illegal firearms trafficking. Those efforts became even more urgent after multiple killings at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store where 10 people died, and an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school where 19 children and two teachers were fatally injured by a shooter.
Progressives are already cheering that this will be a huge step forward in monitoring suspicious gun purchases,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) said in a House hearing on Wednesday. “Anyone who is against the rights of gun owners will want [financial] institutions to flag every single transaction with a gun [code] to law enforcement.”
But the code only gives financial institutions insight into where a purchase was made — not the items that were purchased. It won’t preclude legal purchases of firearms, nor will it serve as the sole reason behind the blocking of any individual transactions.
Two dozen Republican state attorneys general have already threatened the card companies with legal action over the new code. GOP lawmakers on the House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees fired off letters this week to Amalgamated Bank, the Treasury Department and the Bank Policy Institute — a lobbying group for big lenders — to signal their displeasure as well.
There’s long been a merchant code for florists, but I don’t see Republican attorneys general objecting [to that],” New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, a Democrat who oversees the city’s pension system, said in an interview earlier this week. “I guess they don’t get big contributions from the florists.”