News| Industry News

By Drew Bryant
September 12, 2022,

On Friday, the International Organization for Standardization approved the creation of a new merchant code for gun retailers. This new code will allow credit card companies to identify credit card sales of guns and ammunition made on their service.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)—is based out of Geneva, Switzerland and is a independent non-governmental body that creates standards across various industries. One of those industries it creates standards for is the financial services industry. On Friday, the ISO approved a new merchant category code for gun and ammunition retailers.

This information came from a press release from Amalgamated Bank, which applied for the new merchant category code. Amalgamated is private bank that is based out of New York and calls itself, “America’s socially responsible bank.” In part of their press release they revealed the decision to push for creating the new merchant code was, “the result of nearly three years of research and partnership with issue experts at Guns Down America and Giffords Law Center and broad support from elected officials, pension funds, and others across the United States.”

Amalgamated Bank was started nearly 100 years ago by Union workers. In 2021, the bank applied to create a new merchant code but was unsuccessful but, the application was denied twice by the ISO. Then in June of this year they applied again for a new merchant code, according to CBS News.

The approval of the new merchant code took place at a on September 7th, by the ISO. According to an email to Epoch Times, the ISO’s Members of the Registration and Maintenance Management Group, were unable to reach a decision regarding this application,” which resulted to the decision being “escalated to the ISO/TC 68/SC9 leadership (as per current process) who then met on the same day.” This group within the ISO overseas the standards for retail services.

“Considering the application met all the criteria from ISO 18245 and no material arguments pertaining to the approval criteria outlined in the ISO 18245 standard to reject the code were made, SC9 leadership has approved this MCC application in order to comply with the standard,” the ISO told The Epoch Times.

Merchant category codes are made up for four digits and used to classify retailers across numerous industries.

This new merchant code allows for banks and credit card merchants that process payments to decide whether they should assign the code to firearm retailers. The ISO asserts the new code could help monitor and track where a person spends their money via a credit card purchase but, does not show what specific items were purchased.

Currently, credit card companies classify retailers with other merchants as either “5999: Miscellaneous retail stores” or “5941: Sporting Goods Stores,” according to CBS News. The new code for firearm retailers has been approved it does not yet have a four digit code to signify the additional code.

Amalgamated Bank Urges Credit Card Companies To Use New Code

After the approval from the ISO on the new merchant code, Amalgamated Bank is urging credit card companies to follow the ISO’s forthcoming code for firearms and ammunition. As of right now it it is unclear which credit card companies will adopt the new code.

The President and CEO of the Amalgamated Bank, Priscilla Sims Brown said in a statement that, We all have to do our part to stop gun violence. And it sometimes starts with illegal purchases of guns and ammunition.”

“The new code will allow us to fully comply with our duty to report suspicious activity and illegal gun sales to authorities without blocking or impeding legal gun sales,” she said in a statement. “This action answers the call of millions of Americans who want safety from gun violence and we are proud to have led the broad coalition of advocates, shareholders, and elected officials that achieved this historic outcome.”

In the press release from the bank announcing the approval of the new merchant code it also shared statements from New York officials and lawmakers who support the code. Those names include New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, New York State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, and New York State Rep. Chantel Jackson.

After the announcement of the new merchant code national gun violence groups such as Guns Down America, Gifford’s, the Brady Organization, and New Yorkers against gun violence praising the passing of the new code saying it, “paves the way for credit card companies to help law enforcement preempt mass shootings and firearm trafficking by identifying suspicious patterns of firearms and ammunition purchases.”

Criticism On The ISO’s New Merchant Code

After the approval of the code firearm companies and organization criticized the new code. Mark Olivia, the Director of Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said the code’s creation was, “flawed on its premise,” when speaking with The Center Square. He continued, “Those who believe it will help law enforcement do not provide details on what should be considered suspicious purchases.”

The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), is legislative arm of the NRA. Their spokesperson Lars Dalsiede spoke with The Center Square saying, “Implying that firearm purchases are suspicious demonstrates an obvious bias these attorneys general hold against anyone who chooses to exercise a fundamental constitutional right.”

“Creating specific credit card codes for firearms lays the groundwork for a de facto firearm registration. Suggesting otherwise is either shortsighted or deceptive,” Dalseide added. “The true travesty is that New Yorkers and Californians must continue facing the violent criminals pushed back on the streets thanks to these two attorneys general reckless soft-on-crime policies.”

Credit Card Companies Response To New Merchant Code

Back on September 2nd, Congressional Democrats Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) announced they had reached out to the CEO’s of MasterCard, American Express, and Visa, seeking support for Amalgamated Bank’s application for the new merchant code. While also requesting information about their reported opposition to the application for the new code.

The politicians cited a report from CBS News from June that said it had acquired documents that reveal, “employees from domestic and international credit card companies, including Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, pushed back on an application to create a merchant category code for firearm and ammunition sellers.”

Following the ISO’s approval of a new merchant code, a spokesperson from Mastercard told various media outlets, “we now turn our focus to how it will be implemented by merchants and their banks as we continue to support lawful purchases on our network while protecting the privacy and decisions of individual cardholders.”

American Express hasn’t released a statement since the approval last Friday. The company said that it would work with its third-party processors and partners on the implementation when the ISO makes a new code. The American Express says, “It is important to note that [merchant category] codes are one of many data points that help us understand the industries in which our merchants operate,” the spokesperson told outlets. “We are focused on ensuring that we have the right controls in place to meet our regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities, as well as prevent illegal activity on our network.”

On Saturday, Visa said it would adopt the new ISO’s merchant code.

“Following ISO’s decision to establish a new merchant category code, Visa will proceed with next steps, while ensuring we protect all legal commerce on the Visa network in accordance with our long-standing rules,” it said, reported by The Associated Press.

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