California Attorney General Bonta and New York Attorney General James Call on Credit Card Companies to Do Their Part to End Illegal Gun Trafficking and Mass Shootings

Friday, September 2, 2022
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Urge companies to agree to new merchant category for firearms

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta and New York Attorney General Letitia James today issued a joint letter calling on credit card companies to create a spending merchant category code (MCC) for firearms, which would allow law enforcement to better deter firearms trafficking and potentially serve as a warning sign of potential mass violence. The letter comes after years of reporting by outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times identifying how banks and credit card companies could help law enforcement preempt mass shootings by identifying suspicious gun purchases through the implementation of a new MCC. Yet, years later banks and credit card companies have not created such a spending category, leaving law enforcement in the dark as gun violence continues to proliferate. California and New York headquarter three of the largest credit card networks — Visa, American Express, and Mastercard — in the country and call on these companies to take the important step of establishing MCCs for purchases from gun stores when the appropriate subcommittee convenes at the next International Organization for Standardization meeting. The creation of a new MCC for gun and ammunition retail stores would be the first step towards facilitating the collection of valuable financial data that could help law enforcement in countering the financing of terrorism efforts.

“We must use every tool in our toolbox to combat the deadly threat of gun violence,” said California Attorney Rob General Bonta. “That means everyone in this country, including credit card companies, has an important part to play in our fight to save lives and combat senseless violence. Today, two of the largest states, with two of the strongest firearms safety laws, are standing together to call on credit card companies to create a spending category that would help law enforcement better identify terrorism and gun trafficking. This has never been more urgent — people are dying from gun violence each and every day. Preventing gun violence is on everyone: from law enforcement to business leaders to community members.”

“Credit card companies categorize purchases on nearly everything from groceries to gas to clothing, but no category exists for the multi-billion-dollar gun and ammunition industry,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Categorizing gun sales can help us work with our partners in police departments to combat gun violence and save lives. This is a common-sense solution that credit card companies can implement to help keep New Yorkers, and all Americans, safer.”

According to the New York Times report, there had been 13 shootings that killed ten or more people in the decade before the report; at least eight of those mass shooters used credit cards to buy their weapons, including the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017 (61 dead, 867 injured); Aurora, Colorado in 2012 (12 dead, 70 injured), and Orlando, Florida in 2016 (50 dead, 58 injured). In 2022, there have been more mass shootings in the U.S. than days in the year. Credit card companies are in a unique position to help law enforcement prevent gun violence. Given that three of the largest credit card companies in the United States — Visa, Mastercard, and American Express — are located in California and New York, Attorney General Bonta and Attorney General James call on these companies to do their part by approving a spending category, or MCC, for firearms and ammunition.

MCCs are four-digit codes maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which classify merchants by the nature of their businesses. Financial institutions and payment networks — including Visa, Mastercard, and American Express — use the ISO standard to assign MCCs to merchants in order to determine interchange rates, assess transaction risks, and generally categorize payments. MCC codes range from general to highly specific — for example, while electric razor stores, tent stores, and leather goods stores all currently have unique codes, there is no unique code for brick and mortar gun stores: gun and ammunition retail outlets are instead classified as “miscellaneous” or “sporting goods.”

The ISO’s Registration and Maintenance Management Group (RMMG), whose members represent senior industry experts, include representatives from major credit card companies such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. These representatives evaluate applications for new merchant categories and may vote to approve the category if the following criteria are met:

  • The merchant category is reasonable and substantially different from all other merchant categories currently represented in the list of code values; 
  • The merchant category is separate and distinct from all other industries currently represented in the list of code values;
  • The proposal describes a merchant category or industry, and not a process;
  • The minimum annual sales volume of merchants included in the merchant category, taken as a whole is, $10 million; and
  • Sufficient justification for the addition of a new code is found.

On July 6, 2021, Amalgamated Bank applied to ISO for a new category code for standalone gun and ammunition retail stores, but their application was denied by the RMMG that October. Amalgamated Bank then filed an appeal of its initial application on November 23, 2021, only to be denied again in February, 2022. On June 21, 2022, Amalgamated Bank once again applied to the ISO for a new MCC. The coalition urges the RMMG, including its representatives from credit card companies, to approve the application.

A copy of the letters to credit card companies can be found here.

Gun violence remains a growing threat to public safety throughout the nation. On average, there are over 110 gun deaths each day and nearly 41,000 each year in the U.S. Guns are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents; with U.S. children being more likely to die from gun violence than in any other comparable country.

California continues its efforts to advance laws and policies that save lives and prevent gun deaths. In 2021, California saw a 37% lower gun death rate than the national average. According to the CDC, California’s gun death rate was the 44th lowest in the nation, with 8.5 gun deaths per 100,000 people – compared to 13.7 deaths per 100,000 nationally, 28.6 in Mississippi, 20.7 in Oklahoma, and 14.2 in Texas. California’s gun death rate for children is also lower than other states, and is 58% lower than the national average.

Attorney General Bonta stands with partners throughout the state to continue preventing gun violence strategically and aggressively by:

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