NEW YORK — Payment processor Visa Inc. said late Saturday that it plans to start categorizing sales at gun stores separately.
It’s a major victory for gun control advocates who say it will help better track suspicious increases in gun sales that could be the prelude to a mass shooting. But gun rights advocates have argued that the measure would unfairly separate legal gun sales when most sales do not lead to mass shootings.
Visa said it would adopt the International Organization for Standardization’s new merchant code for firearms sales, which was announced on Friday. Until Friday, gun store sales were considered “general merchandise.”
“Following ISO’s decision to establish a new merchant category code, Visa will move forward with the next steps, while ensuring that all legal commerce on the Visa network is protected in accordance with our long-standing rules,” said the payment processor in a statement.
The adoption of Visa is significant as the largest payment network and will likely put additional pressure on Mastercard and American Express to adopt the code as well.
Proponents of gun control had achieved important victories on this front in recent weeks. New York City officials and pension funds had been lobbying ISO and banks to adopt the code.
Two of the nation’s largest public pension funds, in California and New York, are lobbying the nation’s largest credit card companies to establish sales codes specifically for gun sales that could flag the suspicious purchases or more easily trace how weapons and ammunition are sold.
Merchant category codes now exist for almost all types of purchases, including those made at supermarkets, clothing stores, cafes and many other retailers.
“When you buy a plane ticket or pay for groceries, your credit card company has a special code for these retailers. It’s just common sense that we have the same policies in place for gun and ammunition stores,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who blames gun proliferation. for the murderous violence of his city.
City Comptroller Brad Lander said it makes moral and financial sense as a tool to address gun violence.
“Unfortunately, credit card companies haven’t supported this simple, convenient, and potentially life-saving tool. Now is the time for them to do so,” Lander said recently, ahead of Visa’s announcement.
Landers is a director of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System and the Board of Education’s Retirement System – which together own 667,200 shares of American Express valued at approximately 92.49 millions of dollars ; 1.1 million shares of MasterCard valued at approximately $347.59 million; and 1.85 million shares of Visa valued at approximately $363.86 million.
In letters to companies, New York’s pension funds, joined by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, called for support for such a move, saying companies had a responsibility to ban the using their networks for what public officials considered illegal activity.
“Failure to do so may result in regulatory, reputational and litigation risks that may harm long-term shareholder value,” the letters asserted.
Over the years, public pension funds have used their large investment portfolios to influence public policy and the market.
The California Teachers’ Fund, the second-largest pension fund in the nation, has long targeted the gun industry. He gave up his holdings to gun manufacturers and sought to persuade some retailers to sell guns.
Four years ago, the Teachers’ Fund made guns a key initiative. He called for background checks and called on retailers to “monitor irregularities at the point of sale, record all gun sales, regularly check gun inventory and proactively help the police”.
Pension funds argue that creating a merchant category code for gun and ammunition stores could help combat gun violence.
In letters to credit card companies, a pattern of purchases could signal suspicious activity.
Officials said a week before the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people died after a gunman opened fire in 2016, the attacker used credit cards to buy over $26,000 in guns and ammunition, including purchases from a self-contained gun retailer.
Associated Press writer Bobby Calvan in New York contributed to this report.