WASHINGTON, D.C.– District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that he joined with Delaware and New Jersey to lead a coalition of 11 attorneys general supporting the recent decision of the world’s largest credit card companies—Visa, Mastercard, and American Express—to adopt a new merchant category code for the sale of firearms and ammunition that will support law enforcement efforts to help combat the gun violence epidemic.
“Keeping DC residents safe is my office’s top priority—that’s why we’re standing behind financial institutions that are helping law enforcement better combat gun violence and mass shootings,” said AG Racine. “All of us—prosecutors, law enforcement, businesses, and community members—must work together to keep our families and neighbors safe. This recent move by Visa, Mastercard, and American Express is one such tool that could help prevent harmful acts of gun violence across the country.”
Earlier this month, the Switzerland-based International Organization for Standardization approved the creation of a new merchant code that will allow financial institutions to better detect and report suspicious activity related to the purchase of firearms and ammunition at standalone gun retail stores.
Gun-safety advocates view the decision by the credit card companies as an important step that will help law enforcement investigate gun crimes, prevent mass shootings, and combat illegal weapons trafficking.
In a letter to the President, Chairmen, and Chief Executive Officers of American Express, Inc., Mastercard Inc., and Visa Inc., the attorneys general state that significant gaps exist in the current systems in place to prevent mass casualty events, and that this new code will fill one of those gaps by offering an additional tool that local, state, and federal entities can use to thwart mass shooting events before they occur.
The attorneys general explain that the code will help curb the sale of illegal guns by providing sales information from financial institutions to law enforcement agencies. This code will for example, enable financial institutions to track multiple sales to a person who tries to get around the requirement to report purchases by purchasing firearms at multiple outlets. It also will enable financial institutions and law enforcement to review transaction patterns associated with mass shootings, such as rapidly obtaining weapons and large amounts of ammunition. The code will also support “red flag” laws which have been enacted to curb domestic terrorism and keep communities safe. The code does not prohibit firearm sales, regulate such sales, or otherwise prevent a consumer from making a gun purchase. The code is merely an administrative tool to gather data that would enhance law enforcement’s ability to do its job.
AG Racine and Co-Leaders Delaware AG Jennings and New Jersey AG Platkin, analyzed the legal issues and drafted the letter. Joining them are the attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Oregon.
This letter builds on AG Racine’s ongoing work to support reasonable gun safety regulations and protect District residents. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) sued Polymer80 – a leading manufacturer of ghost guns in the United States and the company responsible for most of the ghost guns recovered in the District – for illegally advertising and selling them to District consumers. OAG was the first attorney general’s office in the country to file such a suit against Polymer80. In August 2022, OAG won a judgment against Polymer80, securing $4 million in penalties.
In July and August 2022, AG Racine led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing two additional briefs backing the new federal rule requiring serialization of weapon parts kits and partially complete frames and receivers, and requiring background checks to purchase these weapons. He previously led a coalition of 22 AGs calling on ATF to better regulate these weapons and improve public safety. In 2021, he also joined a White House meeting on holding gun manufacturers accountable and highlighted the need for more regulation of ghost guns. In 2020, AG Racine joined a multistate “ghost gun” lawsuit to prevent the federal government from making it easier to acquire 3D-printed firearms online.
A copy of the letter AG Racine and 10 other attorneys general sent today to the President, Chairmen, and Chief Executive Officers of American Express, Inc. Mastercard Inc., and Visa Inc. is available here.