Citywide elected officials and three of the city’s five pension funds are pushing major credit card companies to start tracking spending at firearm dealers — part of a growing push in New York to flag suspicious gun and ammunition sales.
An exclusive report from Gothamist earlier this week revealed that nearly 50 state lawmakers had sent a letter to American Express and Mastercard, asking them to start coding firearm sales with a special category, making it easier for law enforcement to track conspicuous weapons purchases.
Now, Mayor Eric Adams, Comptroller Brad Lander, Attorney General Letitia James and three of New York City’s pension systems, have announced they are joining in on those calls. The New York City Employees’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System and the Board of Education Retirement System announced Tuesday that they are using their status as shareholders in Mastercard and American Express to push the companies to take action.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, officials emphasized the joint push in New York to use every available tool to curb gun violence.
“Using our pension dollars to ensure that it is helping lives, not destroying lives: this is the responsibility we have,” Adams said.
At hand is a request from Amalgamated Bank, a self-professed “socially responsible” bank headquartered in New York City, which wants credit card companies to start tracking spending at firearm dealers. Credit cards already classify their users’ spending into different categories, called merchant category codes, depending on where the money was spent. Some of the categories are fairly broad, such as book stores and fast food restaurants. Others are quite specific, including crystal and glassware stores, typewriter stores and electric razor stores.
No unique code exists for gun and ammunition shops. Instead, firearm sales are usually lumped into a “miscellaneous” category, which also includes picture frame shops, or a “durable goods” category that also classifies purchases of fire extinguishers and wood chips, according to a Mastercard reference booklet.
“We are united here to urge credit card companies to get on board with this simple, practicable step to prevent gun violence and save lives,” Lander said.
Amalgamated recently submitted an application to the International Organization for Standardization, which creates the codes, to make a new classification for stores that sell firearms ammunition. With a code for guns and ammunition shops, they argue, credit card companies would be able to detect suspicious spending, which financial institutions are required by federal law to report. The bank has applied in the past without success and officials have said they believe that major credit card companies, including Mastercard and American Express, thwarted their proposal.
“America is bleeding out,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “If there’s something that we can do right now that is preventative, that holds people accountable and that simply aligns to what companies are doing anyway, why would you not do it?”
The New York City Employees’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System and the Board of Education Retirement System want the card companies to seriously consider any applications to create a new merchant category code for gun ammunition stores. In a letter sent this They have also asked the boards of both Mastercard and American Express to publicly report on the decision-making process to investors. The three pension systems own a combined 667,200 shares in American Express valued at approximately $92.49 million and 1.1 million shares in Mastercard valued at approximately $347.59 million, according to the comptroller’s office.
“If tracking these codes could stop just one mass shooting or derail one gun trafficker aiming to flood the streets with guns, it would be worth it,” James said.
Federal law prohibits the creation of a national registry for firearm owners, and second amendment supporters have criticized calls to track purchases at gun stores. In a statement to Gothamist, the National Rifle Association expressed concerns that a code for gun dealers could be used to confiscate people’s firearms. The National Shooting Sports Foundation said it would be logistically difficult to implement and could impede on people’s constitutional right to bear arms.
The international body that makes the codes is expected to vote on the application as early as September. Mastercard said in a statement that it is reviewing how it would implement a new code, if one were created. American Express did not respond to requests for comment.