Democratic lawmakers ask payment firms to renew work on gun code

By Ross Kerber

(Reuters) – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and 48 other Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday urged top payments companies to resume work on implementing a sales code for gun merchants, according to letters seen by Reuters, citing how states have passed conflicting requirements on the issue.

In March, the payments companies Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover Financial said they would delay the rollout of a “merchant category code,” or MCC, meant to help detect suspicious firearms and ammunition sales to combat gun violence amid a spate of mass shootings.

The companies at the time cited legislation being passed in Republican-led states to restrict the use of the codes, which they said created legal inconsistencies. Opponents worry the codes could be used to improperly track consumer behavior. According to firearms industry trade group NSSF, seven states have passed laws prohibiting use of the four-digit code, which was approved by an international standards body last year.

Meanwhile in September California, the most populous U.S. state, passed a law requiring use of the code.

In letters to each of the four companies dated Dec. 6 and seen by Reuters, Warren and the other signatories said at least the companies should implement the code in all states where it remains legal.

“There is no legal or technical rationale” to avoid doing so, they wrote.

Representatives for each of the four companies did not respond to questions.

In their letters, the lawmakers asked the companies a dozen questions about their work on the MCC to date, and cited the growing number of U.S. mass shootings, including over 600 so far in 2023. They referred to cases in which high-profile mass shooters charged large firearms purchases on their credit cards ahead of the crimes.

“Credit cards often facilitate the purchase of the weapons used to commit this violence,” the letters state. They were co-led by Warren of Massachusetts and by U.S. Rep Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.

NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva said the firearm association hopes to see federal legislation introduced to “protect the financial privacy of Americans making lawful firearm purchases with credit cards.”

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(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Aurora Ellis)