What’s in your wallet? If it’s a Discover credit card, be advised that it will soon be used to monitor your gun-related purchases and potentially report them to the government. Earlier this month, Discover was the first major credit card issuer to announce that it will implement a new merchant category code (MCC) created to track purchases at gun stores with the express purpose of monitoring and reporting to authorities any activity the company considers “suspicious.” Discover told news outlet Reuters that it would begin its surveillances of gun shop purchases in April.
We have been reporting on development of the new MCC for some time now, including here, here, and here. Discover, however, was the first credit card company to publicly announce a timeframe for its implementation.
Noticeably absent from Discover’s statement was any explanation of how the company will determine which purchases are sufficiently “suspicious” to warrant reporting or what information, if any, customers will be provided when they have triggered an alert.
Use of the MCC can only inform a credit card company that a certain amount of money was spent at what is considered a firearm retailer. It cannot be used to track what was actually bought, much less determine why the purchase was made. Thus, the program inherently poses a risk to consumers of needlessly intrusive and harassing consequences for completely lawful and innocent conduct.
As we report elsewhere this week in the context of a California bill that seeks to financially starve firearm industry members, gun controllers increasingly consider any commercial activity related to the Second Amendment intolerable. That bill, and comments by its sponsor, demonstrate that activists are ready to drop the pretense that they are only targeting bad actors and now simply wish to suppress any firearm-related commerce by any means possible.
Yet even assuming the program is administered in good faith (NOT a safe assumption, considering its activist origins), it’s doubtful a typical credit card executive has sufficient knowledge or experience with firearms and gun shops to have any concept of what is and is not within “normal” bounds. That would be like asking a plumber from Nebraska to judge whether a Wall Street financier spent a “reasonable” amount of money on cigars or in a luxury day spa at Lake Tahoe or Monaco.
Discover claimed in its comments to Reuters that it was merely “following th[e] lead” of other credit card issuers that “had already decided to implement the new code in April.” No such company, however, would admit as much to Reuters. It may be that as the credit card industry takes a closer look at operationalizing the scheme, executives will understand it is unworkable, unwise, and eminently un-American.
In the meantime, the plan’s obvious practical and privacy-related problems have caught the attention of policy-makers, and some are taking action. A trio of Florida Republicans – including Agricultural Commissioner Wilton Simpson, Sen. Danny Burgess, and Rep. John Snyder – have put forward the Florida Arms and Ammo Act to block implementation of the new MCC in the “Gunshine State.” In announcing the legislation, Sen. Burgess stated: ““This is the United States of America. You don’t get penalized for exercising a Constitutional right. The Second Amendment is nonnegotiable, and here in Florida, we are going to fight to protect the rights of Floridians.” The bill last week advanced out of committee in the Florida Senate.
Bills are already moving in about a dozen other states
Moreover, as we previously reported, state attorneys general and other state-level officials, as well as Republican members of the Senate Banking Committee to the Bank Policy Institute, have officially expressed their concerns about the program in letters to leading credit card issuers.
Credit cards can no longer be considered a mere convenience or luxury in the modern economy. Particularly when transacting online, they are all but a necessity. While gun owners may be able in the short term to modify their purchasing practices, or avoid companies like Discover that infringe on their privacy and rights, they shouldn’t have to fear scrutiny or harassment for their lawful – and especially their constitutionally-protected – purchases. The NRA will continue to update this story and to work with its allies in industry and legislatures to protect firearm-related commerce from suppression by activists in and outside of government.