Adams, elected leaders call for credit card companies to improve tracking of gun sales

Mayor Adams
Mayor Adams, elected officials call for credit card companies to improve tracking of gun sales.
Office of the Mayor of the City of New York/Ed Reed

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and elected leaders on Tuesday called on American Express, MasterCard and Visa, three of the world’s largest credit card companies, to support a proposal to establish a merchant category code (MCC) for gun and ammunition stores.

The mayor said the creation of a new code would help financial institutions detect and report suspicious activity, such as unusually large purchases of firearms or ammunition, or purchases from multiple stores, which may be used for criminal purposes.

Credit card companies use a four-digit merchant category code to classify businesses by the types of goods and services sold, Adams said.

He said merchant category codes are set by the International Organization on Standardization (ISO).

Adams said unique merchant category codes exist for grocery stores, sporting goods stores, bicycle shops and many other retailers — but not for gun and ammunition stores.

Proposals have been brought before the ISO to create a merchant category code for gun retailers, but American Express, MasterCard and Visa have not supported the notion.

The press conference, which comes ahead of a fall meeting of the ISO, highlighted the introduction of shareholder proposals by the three pension funds at American Express and Mastercard, and requested transparency on the decisions made regarding merchant category codes for gun and ammunition stores.

The three pension funds also sent a letter with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) to American Express, Mastercard, and Visa.

The three pension funds own 667,200 thousand shares in American Express valued at about $92.49 million; 1.1 million shares in MasterCard valued at about $347.59 million; and 1.85 million shares in Visa valued at about $363.86 million.

Tuesday’s announcement also followed a letter to MasterCard and American Express from 50 New York state legislators, spearheaded by New York State Sen. Zellnor Myrie and New York State Assemblymember Chantel Jackson, calling for the creation of this code.

“When it comes to guns falling into the wrong hands, we must find upstream solutions before we’re faced with downstream consequences — because downstream consequences are lost lives,” said Mayor Adams. “When you buy an airline ticket or pay for your groceries, your credit card company has a special code for those retailers.

“It’s just commonsense that we have the same policies in place for gun and ammunition stores,” he added. “I’m proud to join Comptroller (Brad) Lander and our partners at the state level to call for this important policy change.”

“Gun violence continues to ravage our nation and communities across our city,” Lander said. “As fiduciaries, we have a responsibility to minimize risks of harm that could negatively impact the companies in our portfolio.

“Establishing a merchant category code to identify purchases from gun retailers could do just that, by helping to prevent gun crimes and saving lives,” he said. “Unfortunately, the credit card companies have failed to support this simple, practical, potentially lifesaving tool. The time has come for them to do so.”

“We must fight for public safety through every tool at our disposal: reducing the flow of guns into our communities, working with police to take on crime, and demanding that businesses do their part, said New York State Attorney General Letitia James. “Communities could stop paying the price for gun violence if credit card companies did their part to categorize gun purchases and flag suspicious activity to law enforcement agencies.

“There are categories for nearly every purchase, but none for the multi-billion-dollar gun industry,” she added. “These changes could save lives and go a long way in helping us combat gun violence. I am proud to stand with my partners in government to call on the largest credit card companies to step up and help us protect communities.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, said credit card companies already use merchant category codes for retailers from utilities to transportation to clothing, stating that “it’s past time they also used them to specifically mark gun stores as well.

“As trustees of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, we have invested in the big three credit card companies,” he said. “We have a fiscal and moral responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ safety and finances by urging these companies to exercise that same responsibility and implement category codes to help detect suspicious purchases at gun and ammunition stores.

“Every illegal gun was legal at some point, and the usage of these codes would be instrumental in monitoring and tracking those legal gun sales as well as future gun trafficking,” Williams added.

“Gun violence is a public health and safety crisis that demands a full-force response from every sector, including financial services,” said Myrie, representative for the 20th Senate District in Brooklyn, who traces his roots to Jamaica.

“Credit card companies have the power to track suspicious spending patterns and can use a designated MCC to help save lives,” he added. “I applaud Comptroller Lander for leading this shareholder action to demand responsible leadership and a true public-private partnership to end gun violence.”

“Gun violence is a crisis that has been tearing apart too many families for far too long,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Jr., whose father hails from Jamaica. “We need to think creatively and act aggressively to address this scourge,

“The credit card companies have their role to play in this and must do their part to help combat gun violence and keep our families safe,” he added.

“To prevent gun violence, we need more tools available to track the purchases of dangerous weapons,” said State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris. “Credit card companies must be part of the solution and I am pleased to support Senator Myrie and Comptroller Lander’s effort to ensure a new merchant category code for firearms purchases.”

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