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American Express, Visa, Mastercard move ahead with code to track gun store purchases in California

Major credit card companies are moving to make a merchant code available for firearm and ammunition retailers in order to comply with a new California law that will allow banks to potentially track suspicious gun purchases and report them to law enforcement, CBS News has learned.

Retailers are assigned merchant codes based on the types of goods they sell, and the codes allow banks and credit card companies to detect purchase patterns. Currently gun shops are lumped in with other types of retailers, such as sporting goods stores.

Mastercard, Visa and American Express initially agreed to implement a standalone code for firearm sellers, but later paused their work on it after receiving blowback from Second Amendment advocates concerned tracking gun purchases would infringe on the rights of legal gun owners.

Gun control activists hope the code, approved by an international organization in 2022, can be used as a tool to help identify suspect purchases and, consequently, stop gun crime, including mass shootings. Proponents say a code for firearms merchants would allow banks and credit unions to alert law enforcement of potentially suspicious purchasing patterns in the same way they already flag other types of transactions, such as those that suggest identity theft or terrorist financing.

While a merchant code for standalone firearm and ammunition sellers would yield data that shows a transaction was made at a gun store, the credit card companies say the code would not provide details about the customer or insight into individual items that were purchased.

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