Last month, gun control advocates hailed the creation and adoption of a new sales code targeted at identifying purchases made at U.S. gun stores. The code was promoted as a way to help banks and credit card companies identify and “recognize dangerous firearm purchasing trends,” thus improving public safety. It won’t.
If anything, this new system, which is susceptible to widespread abuse, could have dangerous consequences. Thankfully, Republican members of Congress are taking steps to resist its implementation.
Republican Sens. Bill Hagerty and Tom Cotton announced that they led a group of Senate Republicans in penning a letter to Amalgamated Bank President and CEO Priscilla Sims Brown “criticizing the bank’s manipulation of an international rules organization to force U.S. financial services firms to categorize gun purchases.” This is the latest move in the political back and forth that began when Amalgamated Bank, which self-describes as “America’s socially responsible bank” and donates thousands of dollars to Democrats and left-wing political groups, successfully petitioned for the creation of the new sales code.
The senators’ letter accuses the bank of “fully embrac[ing] an anti-firearms agenda” while forcing “radical and discriminatory policies on the entire financial system.” While the letter concerningly implies that Congress has some authority to legislate “fundamental rights,” the senators make their opposition to the bank’s actions very clear, promising congressional action: “You should consider this notice to retain all communications involving your role in ISO’s categorization scheme, and you should anticipate testifying before Congress in the near future.”
The ISO (International Organization for Standardization), is a non-governmental international organization that establishes various market standards, including codes for payment transactions, and set forth the new merchant category code (MCC) for credit and debit transactions at U.S. gun stores. The MCC applies to all transactions conducted with a merchant identified as a gun store. Previously, under this system, purchases made in gun stores would be identified as “general merchandise.” Breaking with this established tradition in favor of the newer regulations, Visa, Mastercard, and American Express stated they will adopt the code.
But what does this new merchant code really do? Despite what activists may claim, the MCC provides little (if any) insight into purchases made at gun stores.
The code does not target gun or ammo purchases; instead, it applies to all purchases at merchants marked as “gun stores.” Say you go to a gun store and only buy a T-shirt and a bag of coffee, those transactions will be marked as gun store purchases. There is no way of knowing from the code whether a gun or ammo was purchased. The data is essentially meaningless.
But let’s pretend for a minute that the code only applies to gun and ammo purchases, would it improve public safety? Certainly not. Proponents of the MCC have failed to identify any way that dangerous individuals’ buying patterns differ from those of peaceable individuals. Plenty of peaceable individuals collect guns and stash away ammo, which they would never use to harm innocent people while some individuals inflict violence on people and communities after purchasing a single firearm and a relatively small amount of ammo. There are no “trends” that make these behaviors identifiable.
There is no way to discern whether a person is peaceable or not from the amount of money they spend at a coded “gun store,” but gun control advocates insist there is and that is what makes the MCC dangerous.
Data can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and claiming data says something that it doesn’t can empower deceitful propagandists to spin whatever narrative they wish while claiming empirical support for their arguments. It can allow activist financial institutions to target nonviolent, law-abiding individuals simply because those individuals choose to spend their money at gun stores.
In other words, the danger here doesn’t necessarily come from the code change itself — which is mostly benign. Instead, it comes from how opportunists will seek to twist and use the data to say something that it doesn’t and to target peaceable people without cause. And it becomes even more dangerous if the government seeks to use that data to conduct investigations.
States such as California and New York are already all too happy to use and dig through your data to find some reason to deny you your natural self-defense rights. And we’ve already seen the ATF conduct “checks” on perfectly legal and ordinary gun purchases while the federal government seeks to impose mandatory law enforcement “follow-ups” on all failed firearm background checks.
We must remain vigilant against the push for privatized gun control. Just because financial institutions are free to set the terms for their services, doesn’t mean those policies aren’t potentially dangerous or susceptible to abuse. Any attempt to militate banks and credit card companies against gun purchases makes it more difficult for people to protect themselves and their families.
Even more importantly, we must ensure that the government is not empowered to use or rely on MCC purchase data. We cannot stand by while more states go the way of California and New York, freely probing, bending, and disclosing data as they see fit. Especially when activists will claim the MCC conveys information it doesn’t.
While the MCC itself may not be dangerous, the way that gun control advocates want to use it certainly is. And it remains to be seen how Congress will respond, should the Senate Republicans’ promise of congressional oversight come to bear.