NEW YORK — Payments processor Visa Inc. said Saturday it plans to start categorizing sales at gun stores separately, a major victory for gun control advocates who say it will help better tracking suspicious increases in gun sales that could be a prelude to a mass shooting.
But the move by Visa, the world’s largest payment processor, will likely anger gun rights advocates and gun lobbyists, who have argued that categorizing gun sales would signal unfairly an industry when most sales don’t lead to mass shootings. It joins Mastercard and American Express, which also said they plan to move forward with categorizing gun store sales.
Visa said it would adopt the International Organization for Standardization’s new merchant code for firearms sales, which was announced on Friday. Until Friday, gun store sales were considered “general merchandise.”
“Following ISO’s decision to establish a new merchant category code, Visa will move forward with the next steps, while ensuring that all legal commerce on the Visa network is protected in accordance with our long-standing rules,” said the payment processor in a statement.
The adoption of Visa is significant as the largest payment network and, along with Mastercard and AmeEx, will likely put pressure on banks as card issuers to adopt the standard as well. Visa acts as an intermediary between merchants and banks, and it will be up to the banks to decide whether they will allow sales at gun stores on their issued cards.
Gun control advocates had won important victories on this front in recent weeks. New York City officials and pension funds had been lobbying ISO and banks to adopt the code.
Two of the nation’s largest public pension funds, in California and New York, have lobbied the nation’s largest credit card companies to establish sales codes specific to gun sales that could report suspicious purchases or more easily trace how weapons and ammunition are sold.
Most purchases have some sort of categorization
Merchant category codes now exist for almost all types of purchases, including those made at supermarkets, clothing stores, cafes and many other retailers.
“When you buy a plane ticket or pay for your groceries, your credit card company has a special code for these retailers. It’s just common sense that we have the same policies in place for gun stores and munitions,” said New York City Mayor Eric. Adams, a former police captain who blames the proliferation of guns on his city’s deadly violence.
City Comptroller Brad Lander said it makes moral and financial sense as a tool to address gun violence.
“Unfortunately, credit card companies haven’t supported this simple, convenient and potentially life-saving tool. Now is the time for them to do so,” Lander said recently, before Visa and others did. adopt this decision.
Lander is a director of the New York City Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Retirement System and the Board of Education Retirement System – which together own 667,200 shares of American Express valued at approximately 92.49 millions of dollars ; 1.1 million shares of MasterCard valued at approximately $347.59 million; and 1.85 million shares of Visa valued at approximately $363.86 million.
Pension funds and gun control advocates argue that creating a merchant category code for firearms and ammunition stores could help combat gun violence. A week before the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people died after a shooter opened fire in 2016, the attacker used credit cards to buy more than $26,000 worth of firearms and ammunition, including purchases from a stand-alone arms dealer.
The move’s critics say it doesn’t track what’s been bought
Gun rights advocates say tracking gun store sales would unfairly target legal gun purchases because merchant codes only track the type of merchant where the credit card or debit is used, not the actual items purchased. The sale of a gun safe, worth several thousand dollars and an item considered responsible gun ownership, could be considered a simple major purchase in an armory.
“The (industry’s) decision to create a gun-specific code is nothing more than a capitulation to politicians and anti-gun activists bent on eroding the rights of law-abiding Americans, a transaction both,” said Lars Dalseide, spokesman for the National Rifle Association.
Over the years, public pension funds have used their large investment portfolios to influence public policy and the market.
The California Teachers’ Fund, the second-largest pension fund in the nation, has long targeted the gun industry. He divested his holdings to gun manufacturers and sought to persuade certain retailers to sell guns.
Four years ago, the Teachers’ Fund made guns a key initiative. He called for background checks and called on retailers to “monitor irregularities at the point of sale, record all gun sales, regularly check gun inventory and proactively help the police”.