NEW JERSEY – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin Friday led a coalition of Attorneys General from across the nation in supporting adoption by three of the world’s largest credit card companies – Visa, American Express and Mastercard – of a new merchant category code for the sale of firearms and ammunition that will aid law enforcement efforts to combat the scourge of gun violence.
Earlier this month, the Switzerland-based International Organization for Standardization approved the creation of a new merchant code that will allow financial institutions to better detect and report suspicious activity related to the purchase of firearms and ammunition at standalone gun retail stores.
The code will have no bearing on an individual’s ability to lawfully purchase firearms, and is narrowly tailored so that it applies only to purchases made at independently-owned gun retail shops. The decision by the credit card companies is viewed by gun-safety advocates as an important action that will help law enforcement investigate gun crimes, prevent mass shootings, and combat illegal weapons trafficking.
In a letter Friday to the chief executives of Visa, American Express and Mastercard, Attorney General Platkin joined District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings in leading multistate support for the companies’ decision to adopt the new merchant code, which the Attorneys General describe as a vital new public safety tool. Altogether, 11 Attorneys General are signed-on to the letter of support.
“Our office has been working with law enforcement at every level to protect New Jersey residents from the gun violence epidemic that has claimed so many innocent lives here and across the country, and I’m proud to say our common sense gun laws have become a model for the nation,” Platkin said. “But putting a halt to the bloodshed is not only a problem for states to address. The business community has a significant stake in this effort as well. The decision by Visa, American Express and Mastercard to adopt the new merchant code demonstrates a recognition of this reality, and a readiness to do something meaningful to advance public safety.”
The letter notes that there have been hundreds of mass shootings in 2022 alone, and points to such recent, high-profile examples as the supermarket mass shooting in Buffalo and the Uvalde elementary school massacre as evidence that gun violence is a national crisis.
It will require a collective effort – “not just isolated acts” – to turn the tide on gun-related violence and crime, the letter asserts.
The letter anticipates that use of the new merchant code will yield vital information to fill crucial data “gaps” related to multiple purchases of firearms and ammunition. Critically, the letter points out, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has identified failure by retailers to report the sale of two or more firearms to the same person at one time as a common violation found by ATF inspectors.
In addition, the letter notes, the code will enable financial institutions to track multiple sales to persons who seek to avoid the threshold for reporting gun purchases by making firearms purchases at several different retail outlets.
Another key advantage of the new merchant code, the letter observes, is that it will enable financial institutions and law enforcement to analyze transaction patterns associated with mass shootings by persons who have rapidly acquired weapons and large caches of ammunition.
The new code will also be a valuable adjunct to “red flag” laws that many states have enacted to curb domestic terrorism, the letter states.
While the bulk of today’s letter is devoted to applauding the new merchant code and commending the credit card industry’s readiness to “step up and do its part,” the letter also makes a point of dismissing as “fear mongering” arguments advanced by the gun industry and its supporters that the new code is an incursion on Second Amendment rights.
The code does not prohibit lawful firearm sales or impose new regulations on them, the letter notes, and is “merely an administrative tool to gather data that would enhance law enforcement’s ability to do its job.”
The letter also asserts that, contrary to its detractors’ claims otherwise, the new merchant code will not be used to build a database of firearms owners. Nor does the new code pose any more of a threat to consumer privacy than exists now through the application of many other merchant codes related to a broad range of consumer transactions including those at “supermarkets, florists and bike shops, as well as many other retailers.”