Tennessee, Montana AGs lead effort questioning credit card CEOs about tracking gun purchases

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Two dozen state attorneys general sent a letter to the CEOs of major credit card companies warning them about the legality of implementing a new code identifying purchases made at gun stores. 

Led by Tennessee and Montana, the attorneys general explained to the leaders of Visa, MasterCard and American Express that specific Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) that single out transactions at gun stores could run afoul of state consumer protection laws. 

FILE – Convention attendees look at firearms displayed at the Sig Sauer booth at the 2016 National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) / Getty Images)

"Accordingly, we share our concerns and ask that you take immediate action to comport with our consumer protection laws and respect the constitutional rights of all Americans," the attorneys general wrote. "The new code will not protect public safety. Categorizing the constitutionally protected right to purchase firearms unfairly singles out law-abiding merchants and consumers alike."

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If credit card companies begin using the gun store-specific code for purchases, the attorneys general said they are concerned it will create an unofficial "list of gun buyers" — and could lead to their private information being leaked. The state AGs also argue that the code would "only result in vague and misleading information" as it would fail to distinguish the types of purchases made at a store. 

"Purposefully tracking this information can only result in its misuse, either unintentional or deliberate," they wrote. "Creating and tracking this data only matters if your institutions are considering using that information to take further, harmful action—like infringing upon consumer privacy, inhibiting constitutionally protected purchases by selectively restricting the use of your payment systems, or otherwise withholding your financial services from targeted "disfavored" merchants."

Customers wait at a store in Orem, Utah, U.S., on Thursday, March 25, 2021. Two mass shootings in one week are giving Democrats new urgency to pass gun control legislation, but opposition from Republicans in the Senate remains the biggest obstacle to (Getty Images / Getty Images)

Tuesday’s letter follows a letter House Republicans sent to the same CEOs last week expressing similar concerns. 

Credit card companies initially resisted going along with the International Organization for Standardization’s plan to create the gun store-specific code, rejecting a similar plan last year, stating that they "believe that asking payment networks to serve as a moral authority by deciding which legal goods can or cannot be purchased sets a dangerous precedent." 

Montana Attorney General Knudsen blasted the credit card companies for their about-face on rejecting the plan. 

"It’s extremely disappointing to see credit card companies cave to pressure from international bodies and adopt this measure that will do nothing to improve public safety,"Knudsen said in a statement. "Instead, it invites potential future invasions of consumer privacy and further coordination between corporations and government agencies to erode Americans’ fundamental right to keep and bear arms."

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., right, listens as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., speaks during the Senate Environment and Public Works hearing to examine the nomination of Shailen P. Bhatt, to be administrator of the Federal Highway Administration for (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib / Fox News)

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In a separate letter on Thursday,Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R- W. Va., asked the credit card company CEOs to reconsider their support for the MCC change and urged them to respond to several questions if they decided to implement the changes. 

"The implementation of new merchant codes for firearms purchases is a worrying signal to legal sellers and buyers of firearms that their purchases can be monitored, disclosed, or even prevented from occurring," Capito wrote. "This prompts serious constitutional concerns, and sets a troubling precedent wherein gun owners can be impeded in their free exercise of constitutional rights through fear of reprisal, or even the threat of their privacy being invaded. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are under no legal obligation to implement this new MCC and I urge you to change course immediately."

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