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Attorney General Bonta Commends Credit Card Companies’ Decision to Adopt Code To Track Sales At Gun Stores

Use of merchant category code will enable law enforcement to thwart mass shooting events before they occur

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, as part of a multistate coalition of 11 attorneys general, welcomed a decision by three major credit card companies to adopt a spending merchant category code (MCC) for firearms. The code will help law enforcement crack down on illegal firearm sales and potentially assist them in identifying transactions associated with mass violence. On September 2, 2022, California Attorney General Bonta and New York Attorney General Letitia James called on credit card companies to create an MCC for firearms. Attorney General Bonta welcomes the response by credit card companies Mastercard, Visa, and American Express to announce their adoption of a code, less than a month later.

"This decision by the three largest credit card companies in the U.S. will go a long way in helping us in our fight to save lives and combat senseless violence," said Attorney General Bonta. "This has never been more urgent ­­­— people are dying from gun violence each and every day. Preventing gun violence is on everyone: from law enforcement to business leaders to community members, and the MCC is a necessary tool to help protect our communities from more tragedies. Efforts to discourage this critical move to save lives are misguided and misleading." ­­­­­­­­­

Attorney General Bonta outlines that the code serves as an important tool that local, state, and federal entities can use to thwart mass shooting events before they occur. According to a New York Times report, there had been 13 shootings that killed 10 or more people in the decade before the report; at least eight of those mass shooters used credit cards to buy their weapons, including the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017 (61 dead, 867 injured); Aurora, Colorado in 2012 (12 dead, 70 injured), and Orlando, Florida in 2016 (50 dead, 58 injured). 

MCCs are four-digit codes maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which classify merchants by the nature of their businesses. Financial institutions and payment networks — including Visa, Mastercard, and American Express — use the ISO standard to assign MCCs to merchants in order to determine interchange rates, assess transaction risks, and generally categorize payments. MCC codes range from general to highly specific — for example, while electric razor stores, tent stores, and leather goods stores all currently have unique codes, there is no unique code for brick and mortar gun stores: gun and ammunition retail outlets are instead classified as “miscellaneous” or “sporting goods.”

In the letter, the coalition highlighted several key ways the code will help law enforcement prevent gun violence:

  • It will help fill the gap in information caused when retailers fail to report the sale of two or more firearms to the same person at one time;
  • It will enable financial institutions to track multiple sales to an individual trying to evade scrutiny by purchasing firearms at multiple outlets;
  • It will allow financial institutions and law enforcement to analyze transaction patterns associated with mass shootings by individuals who have rapidly acquired weapons and large caches of ammunition; and
  • It will supplement red flag laws that states have enacted to curb domestic terrorism and keep communities safe.

The letter was sent by attorneys general of California, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Delaware, New York, Hawaii, Oregon, Connecticut, Minnesota, Illinois, and Massachusetts, and can be found here.

Gun violence remains a growing threat to public safety throughout the nation. On average, there are over 110 gun deaths each day and nearly 41,000 each year in the U.S. Guns are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, with U.S. children being more likely to die from gun violence than in any other comparable country.

California continues its efforts to advance laws and policies that save lives and prevent gun deaths. In 2021, California saw a 37% lower gun death rate than the national average. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California’s gun death rate was the 6th lowest in the nation, with 8.5 gun deaths per 100,000 people — compared to 13.7 deaths per 100,000 nationally, 28.6 in Mississippi, 20.7 in Oklahoma, and 14.2 in Texas. California’s gun death rate for children is also lower than other states, and is 58% lower than the national average.

Attorney General Bonta stands with partners throughout the state to continue tackling the issue of gun violence strategically and aggressively by: