The red state backlash to major credit card companies deciding to insert themselves in the American gun debate is starting to pick up.
Two dozen Republican attorneys general sent to a letter to Visa, Mastercard, and American Express on Tuesday warning executives against following through with a plan to adopt a new merchant code to categorize firearm sales. The letter, led by Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, told the companies the move would unfairly target gun owners and raises consumer privacy risks.
“As Attorneys General, we have the privilege of protecting our citizens from corporate coordination that hurts consumers,” the letter reads. “We are also charged with ensuring that consumer data is not unlawfully gathered or used. That is why we have serious concerns about the implementation of this Merchant Category Code.”
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express did not respond to a request for comment.
The letter is the latest reaction from Republican officials who have been galvanized to respond to the companies’ policy change. It comes in stark contrast to the celebratory stance many blue-state officials have taken since the major credit card companies announced they would be adopting the new merchant code for firearm sales. As the companies continue to remain tight-lipped about how the new code will be used in practice, the ensuing public debate risks further politicization of the companies themselves.
Last Friday, a group of 12 Senate Republicans led by Kansas Senator Roger Marshall sent a similar letter chastising the three companies for willfully going along with a policy long championed by gun-control advocates.
“To be perfectly clear, your hand is not being forced,” the Senators’ letter reads. “Creating a new merchant code for gun transactions is a choice being made by each of your companies. You are choosing the side of gun-control advocates over the privacy and Second Amendment rights of millions of law-abiding Americans. You are choosing to insert yourselves into this political debate.”
The CEO of Visa also received a letter from 100 Republican members of Congress last week expressing concern over the move and probing the company about how it plans to use firearm transaction data.
The letters come after the three major credit card companies first announced they would be adopting a new Merchant Category Code (MCC) for gun retailers. The code was created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a voluntary membership organization. Gun-control advocates have long favored the creation of an MCC for gun retailers. They argue it could be used to identify potential mass shooters or gun traffickers through the use of unspecified “algorithms” to report “suspicious” purchases at gun stores.
Gun-rights advocates, meanwhile, argue that the move will be used to chill legal firearms commerce. They say the companies could ultimately use the new MCC to create a de facto registry if they implement further reforms gun-control advocates want.
Visa has since poured cold water on some of the higher aspirations of many gun control advocates following the adoption of the code. In a blog post, the company said those urging payment processors to use the new MCC to “track” gun sales have a fundamental misunderstanding of what these codes can and cannot do.
“MCCs do not give Visa or any other payment network visibility into product-level data, also known as ‘SKU-level’ data,” the post reads. “When we process a transaction, we have no visibility into what items a consumer is purchasing — this is true irrespective of which MCC applies to a merchant.”
The company also said it would not allow banks to deny purchases of guns or other legal products based on the new code.
“We do not believe private companies should serve as moral arbiters,” the post reads. “Asking private companies to decide what legal products or services can or cannot be bought and from what store sets a dangerous precedent. Further, it would be an invasion of consumers’ privacy for banks and payment networks to know each of our most personal purchasing habits. Visa is firmly against this.”
But those statements have not done much to stem the ensuing backlash from gun-rights supporters and Republican officials. The 24 state attorneys general said they are prepared to take legal action against the companies if they determine the move will be used to chill legal firearms commerce in any way.
“The Second Amendment is a fundamental right, but it’s also a fundamental American value,” the letter reads. “Our financial institutions should stop lending their market power to those who wish to attack that value. Be advised that we will marshal the full scope of our lawful authority to protect our citizens and consumers from unlawful attempts to undermine their constitutional rights. Please keep that in mind as you consider whether to proceed with adopting and implementing this Merchant Category Code.”