Senate Democrats Resurrect Merchant Codes for Gun Stores

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see Elizabeth Warren and the vast majority of Senate Democrats try to revive the merchant category codes for gun stores that most major credit card companies have declined to use. Though they might be modified, no gun control policy ever really goes away, no matter how unpopular, flawed, or ineffective it might be.


And the merchant category codes were definitely flawed, which is one reason why companies like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express decided to hit the “pause” button on their implementation earlier this year. Now Warren and 48 of her fellow Democrats in Congress have sent a letter to the corporations demanding they start to move forward on the codes, at least in states like California where lawmakers have mandated their use.

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.”


The credit card companies have been resistant to the use of these codes from the get-go, because they’re really not designed for the purposes that gun control activists and anti-gun politicians like Warren intend. The codes don’t provide any information on specific purchases, just dollar amounts and the site where a card was used, so how exactly are credit card companies supposed to determine if a particular transaction is suspicious enough to report to the feds? A $10,000 charge at a big box retailer like Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s may be cause for alarm for Warren and her colleagues, but it could easily be a purchase of a fishing boat or some other pricey item that’s not going to be used for any nefarious purpose.

Someone with evil intentions, on the other hand, could buy a couple of boxes of ammo and a single firearm without raising any suspicion at all. In their letter Warren and other Democrats point to a couple of cases where killers have purchased multiple firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition beforehand, but neglect to mention how many millions of similar transactions have taken place by gun owners who don’t go on to commit a crime.


The credit card companies know how unworkable this is, which is why some of them, like the recently-retired CEO of Visa Al Kelly have gone on the record and declared them unnecessary.

Guns are allowed in the United States and we would fully expect that anybody who wants to buy a gun should be able to buy that that gun provided all the other checks are done. On top of that, we’re telling them that we don’t collect [that level of data] for consumers. So if [Visa’s Chief Communications Officer] K.C. Kavanagh goes into a gun store and buys three thermoses and a tent, and you go in and buy a rifle and five rounds of ammunition, all I know is you both went to the same gun store. I know what gun store, I know when you went, and I know how much money you spent. But I don’t know what you bought.

Part of the rationale on the part of the anti-gunners is to monitor the purchases (at least to some degree) made at gun stores, but another reason why they’re so keen on seeing the merchant category codes implemented is to put pressure on companies like VISA to block credit cards from being used for purchases of guns and ammunition. So what if doing so would stop far more law-abiding citizens who don’t have a lot of extra spending money to purchase a firearm for self-defense, recreation, or even to put food on the table than it would block criminals from acquiring a gun? It’s not like the gun control lobby really cares about protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to acquire a firearm. The more denials the better, at least from their perspective.


Will Warren’s strongly-worded letter undo the “pause” announced by these companies earlier this year? I certainly hope not, but I doubt the missive from the Massachusetts senator will be the last word on the issue either. Like I said, gun control policies never really disappear, so even if this letter is ignored the anti-gunners will soon be pushing once more for the category codes to be put in place.


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