Credit Card Companies Move Forward With Tracking Codes in California

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File

When credit card companies started talking about using tracking codes to keep up with customers' purchases at gun stores, a lot of people were less than thrilled.


Yes, that includes us.

A number of states started looking at banning the practice entirely while others welcomed it.

But the companies seemingly backed off on it. They apparently knew they'd kicked over a hornet's nest and wanted no part of it.

Except, it seems they're still going through with it, just on a limited scale.

Major credit card companies are moving to make a merchant code available for firearm and ammunition retailers in order to comply with a new California law that will allow banks to potentially track suspicious gun purchases and report them to law enforcement, CBS News has learned.

Retailers are assigned merchant codes based on the types of goods they sell, and the codes allow banks and credit card companies to detect purchase patterns. Currently gun shops are lumped in with other types of retailers, such as sporting goods stores. 

Mastercard, Visa and American Express initially agreed to implement a standalone code for firearm sellers, but later paused their work on it after receiving blowback from Second Amendment advocates concerned tracking gun purchases would infringe on the rights of legal gun owners.

Gun control activists hope the code, approved by an international organization in 2022, can be used as a tool to help identify suspect purchases and, consequently, stop gun crime, including mass shootings. Proponents say a code for firearms merchants would allow banks and credit unions to alert law enforcement of potentially suspicious purchasing patterns in the same way they already flag other types of transactions, such as those that suggest identity theft or terrorist financing. 

While a merchant code for standalone firearm and ammunition sellers would yield data that shows a transaction was made at a gun store, the credit card companies say the code would not provide details about the customer or insight into individual items that were purchased.


And that's why this is nothing but a waste of time for any of the supposedly stated purposes.

See, this was billed as a way to notice if someone is doing something shady, that mechanisms used to track various financial crimes could be brought to the gun industry and we could supposedly shut down mass shooters and folks like that. After all, proponents argued, mass shooters buy guns in a way that supposedly should set off red flags.

Of course, they might buy a rifle and a handgun at one time, but so do a whole lot of other people as well, making it useless for that.

Especially since, as noted, you can't see who bought what.

Did they buy three rifles or one very expensive rifle? Did they even buy a firearm? After all, gun stores sell accessories and ammunition as well. Many sell other forms of sporting goods or, in the case of a pawn shop, literally anything else.

There's literally no way this could be used to do anything but give credit card companies and the governments they're beholden to a list of people who bought something from these stores. There's zero chance it'll reduce crime or mass shootings in any way, shape, or form.

But it might just make gun confiscation a whole lot easier.

Picture this: The federal government has decided it no longer wants to honor the Second Amendment. They trample it into oblivion and now want to take everyone's guns. They don't know where they're at, but they can subpoena records from these companies and see where they need to look for them.


Sure, not everyone will have a gun they can take, but it beats going door-to-door, right?

Yes, that's a nightmare scenario and one that there's not a lot of chance coming to pass under current case law, but that's also the only real way this tracking nonsense will be useful.

The only good news is that this is in California versus the rest of the nation.

If you're one of the unfortunate few looking to buy guns there, I suggest bringing cash to the store if you don't want Visa having an idea of what you're up to.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member