Credit card companies setting scary precedent by singling out gun-related purchases, Hawley warns

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is calling out three major credit card companies for “targeting gun owners” after they announced plans last week to categorize gun-related purchases separately from other retail transactions. 

A panel of the International Organization for Standardization, which “develops and publishes international standards,” approved creation of a “merchant category code” (MCC) for gun retailers. It allows credit card companies to categorize each gun-related purchase using the code, thereby opening the door to easily identify which card users purchase firearms and firearm-related items. 

The week after the panel approved the new MCC, Mastercard, American Express and Visa said they would adopt the code.

“This sets a terrible precedent,” Hawley told The Heartlander. “Make no mistake about it: This is an attempt by these big companies, and probably the big banks right behind them, to figure out who is buying guns in America and who they’re buying them from. And I think that’s just a huge mistake.” 

The news has many gun owners, retailers and Second Amendment advocates concerned that people can now be targeted for exercising a constitutional right – and they aren’t wrong, Hawley says. 

“We’re kidding ourselves if we think this is anything other than an attack on the Second Amendment and an attack on individual rights. The only reason these cards would want to track gun purchases is so they can potentially interfere with them, because we know there’s no business reason for it. 

“For decades, these sales have gone forward. The [credit card companies] have allowed them to go forward, and they haven’t tracked them like this. So we know they don’t need to track them for any business purpose. They want to track them now for political purposes. And I think that is dangerous.”

Hawley points to two recent instances in which he says online vendors or merchant platforms interfered with transactions involving conservative causes. 

One instance that dominated media coverage earlier this year was the “Freedom Convoy,” a caravan of Canadian truckers protesting their government’s vaccine mandate – a position widely held by conservatives. Supporters of the convoy attempted to donate more than $10 million to a GoFundMe page to help the truckers, only to have GoFundMe freeze the funds and eventually refund each donation. The company’s action is being litigated in Canadian courts. 

“Look in Missouri!” Hawley continued. “There was a conservative conference in the St. Louis area where their online vendor said, ‘Oh wait a minute. This is conservative? No, no, no. We’re not going to sell tickets for you. We’re not going to allow you to use our payment systems.’ And it basically crashed the conference.”

Indeed, a Donald Trump Jr. speaking event in St. Charles last winter was thwarted when WePay, a payment processing subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase, returned about $30,000 in ticket sales to purchasers. The massive corporation reportedly told event organizers it wouldn’t do business with them anytime in the future “because of hate, violence, racial intolerance, terrorism and the financial exploitation of a crime.”

The company’s reasoning struck many as purely political, and it reversed course and reinstated the event’s account – though only after the state treasurer threatened to stop all business his offices conducted with the bank.

Nonetheless, the original event was canceled and had to be rescheduled. 

“So, these things are actually happening. I don’t want these companies to have this kind of power,” Hawley says. “And the bottom line is, I don’t want Missourians to have to take a political litmus test in order to use Visa, Mastercard or American Express.” 

Hawley is far from alone in his concerns about the companies’ decision, as 24 state attorneys general echoed the same worries in a letter sent to the comapnies’ CEOs Tuesday – two of which were Missouri AG Eric Schmitt and Kansas AG Derek Schmidt. 

“Americans are tired of seeing corporate leverage used to advance political goals that cannot muster basic democratic support,” the letter read. “The Second Amendment is a fundamental right, but it’s also a fundamental American value. Our financial institutions should stop lending their market power to those who wish to attack that value.”

“The creation of a Merchant Category Code for sales at U.S. gun stores will not only accomplish its intended goal, but is rife for misuse and abuse,” Schmitt said in a press release. “Missourians value their Second Amendment rights, and oppose any attempts to create a de-facto gun registry.”

Freedom Principle MO, a conservative coalition, also spoke out against the corporations “colluding with Democrats” late last week.

“This is a blatant attempt by woke corporations, colluding with the radical Biden Regime and Democrats to intimidate law-abiding citizens about legally purchasing firearms,” said Byron Keelin, president of Freedom Principle MO. “Today they want to track purchases – what might they track next? Democrats and big bank companies are trying to scare citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights.”

When asked if he believes any good can come of the policy, Hawley minced no words.

“I think the only good that can come of it is if there is a public outcry that forces the credit card companies to reverse course. I think it’s worse than virtue signaling. I really do think that this is giving them the operational capacity to stop gun sales if and when they want to, and to cut off particular retailers.” 

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