Democratic Senators say merchant code could help reduce gun violence

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and 13 other Democrats signed a letter sent to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging them to make financial institutions implement the new merchant category (MCC) code that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) approved last year for gun and ammunition stores.

The application of the MCC code would equip financial institutions to flag suspicious activity for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which could help reduce the scourge of gun violence and tackle firearms trafficking and other criminal activity.

The new code would label online gun retailers more specifically, instead of the “general merchandise” category.

This effort comes on the heels of recent developments, in which Visa, Mastercard, and American Express have paused the implementation of the new MCC code because some Republican-led state governments are actively working to block its enactment.

“We urge Treasury and DOJ to quickly publish any policy advisory, enforcement guidance, and other materials needed by financial institutions, retailers, and law enforcement as the new MCC code is implemented for gun and ammunition stores,” wrote the lawmakers. “We also ask Treasury, with input from the DOJ, to issue guidance to financial institutions regarding circumstances that should prompt financial firms to file a suspicious activity report about transactions they suspect are related to trafficking in firearms, money laundering proceeds from trafficking in firearms, or other criminal activity.”

The senators believe these credit card companies have a responsibility to push forward, and Treasury and DOJ should provide them, and other financial institutions, with the proper tools for implementation in a timely manner.

The senators highlighted that in the majority of mass shootings between 2007 and 2018 the shooter used credit or debit cards to acquire the guns and ammunition used in the attack. Therefore, banks issuing those cards are in a unique position to flag suspicious buying patterns in a way that law enforcement, family members, and retailers cannot.

“Financial firms are already obligated to report suspicious transactions connected with a range of illegal activities,” concluded the senators. “Implementation of the new MCC code could provide banks with key insight to identify suspicious patterns of firearm and ammunition purchases, which could potentially help law enforcement preempt mass shootings.”

In addition to Warren, the letter was also signed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).

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