September 02, 2022

Senator Warren and Representative Dean Urge Bank CEOs to Adopt New Code for Gun and Ammunition Retailers

“The creation of a new MCC for gun and ammunition retail stores would be the first step towards facilitating the collection of valuable financial data that could help law enforcement in countering the financing of terrorism efforts.”

Text of Letters (PDF)

Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) sent letters to the CEOs of MasterCard, American Express, and Visa urging them to support the creation of a new merchant category code for gun and ammunition retailers and to request information about their reported opposition to Amalgamated Bank’s application for such a code. 

“Mass shooters have repeatedly financed deadly massacres using credit cards, and Bank CEOs need to step up to save lives,” said Senator Warren. “Financial institutions and payment networks, such as Visa, MasterCard, and American Express can and should do everything they can to help law enforcement prevent some mass shootings by identifying suspicious gun purchases through the implementation of this new code.” 

“By creating a new MCC for gun and ammunition retailers, credit card companies and financial institutions can better monitor suspicious activity, like straw purchases, and, in turn, help save lives,” said Representative Dean. “Our nation’s gun crisis requires all of us to act, and I urge companies like MasterCard, American Express, and Visa to support Amalgamated Bank’s request for this code.” 

“A new MCC code could make it easier for financial institutions to monitor certain types of suspicious activities including straw purchases and unlawful bulk purchases that could be used in the commission of domestic terrorist acts or gun trafficking schemes,” wrote the lawmakers. “Such coordination between financial institutions and law enforcement has been instrumental in efforts across the federal government to identify and prevent illicit activity.”

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) maintains a series of merchant category codes (MCC), four-digit codes that classify merchants by their purpose of business. The ISO sets forth criteria that the internal review committee, which includes representatives from Mastercard, Visa, and American Express, must use when evaluating applications for new MCCs.

A 2021 application from Amalgamated Bank (AB) for a new MCC for gun and ammunition retailers was denied, as was their following appeal. AB resubmitted an application in June of 2022 and expects a decision in September when the committee is set to reconvene. The lawmakers have requested responses from Mastercard, American Express, and Visa no later than September 14, 2022.

The letter is endorsed by: Amalgamated Bank, Guns Down America, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Everyone has a responsibility to do what they can to stop gun violence. As a bank, it is our right and responsibility to report the use of the financial system to fuel black market gun sales and sales associated with mass shootings,” said Priscila Sims Brown, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank. “Issuing a merchant category code for gun sellers will allow us to do that, and we are confident that our pending application will be successful if Visa, MasterCard, and American Express follow their process for creating new codes. We are grateful to Senator Warren and Representative Dean for joining our call on industry to adopt this common sense approach to stopping gun violence.”

"It is maddening that credit card companies have refused our call to action when we know that a number of our nation's mass shootings involved credit card purchases," said Igor Volsky, founder and executive director of Guns Down America. "I am grateful for the leadership of Senator Warren and Congresswoman Dean and hope that their work will shine a spotlight on part of the financial system that can and must do better when it comes to preventing gun violence."

“By creating a dedicated code for gun and ammunition purchases we can make it possible to detect and deter illegal gun trafficking, prevent mass shootings, and save lives. We applaud Senator Warren, Representative Dean and their colleagues for calling on major credit card companies to support the creation of this tool and stop blocking progress. It’s time for them to have the courage to act and prevent gun violence,” said Adam Skaggs, Chief Counsel and Policy Director at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“Banks should report dangerous warning signs to law enforcement when extremists are quickly building up massive stockpiles of guns, but that first requires ensuring gun store transactions have a unique identifier,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “We applaud Senator Warren and Representative Dean for calling on credit card companies to support the creation of this merchant code, so banks have the tools they need to help law enforcement intervene before warning signs turn into tragedies.”

This letter was also signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Al Green (D-Texas), André Carson (D-Ind.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Robin Kelly (D-Ill), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif,), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), John B. Larson (D-Conn.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Donald Beyer Jr. (D-Va.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Alma Adams (D-NC).

In January 2020, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced the introduction of the Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act, which includes and builds upon Congressional Democrats' strongest gun safety legislation in one bold, comprehensive bill that works to end the epidemic of gun violence in America. In April 2020, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and 12 of their colleagues today in calling for strengthening background checks amidst a massive increase in gun sales during the coronavirus emergency. In November 2018, Senator Warren introduced the most sweeping set of ethics, lobbying, and anti-corruption reforms in Congress, the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, in order to break the stranglehold of the National Rifle Association and other big-money groups on Congress and pass critical reforms to protect Americans, including common-sense gun laws.