States split on gun sale tracking

Gun Rights

The Associated Press /
Guns for sale are displayed at Maxon Shooter’s Supplies in Des Plaines, Ill., on Tuesday.

A new national divide is emerging among states over whether to track sales by gun stores. A California law taking effect Monday will require credit card networks to provide banks with special retail codes to assign to gun stores. Advocates hope it will help flag suspicious purchases and avert mass shootings. By contrast, new laws taking effect in Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee and Wyoming will prohibit the use of special gun shop codes in financial transactions. A total of 17 states have passed some sort of limit on category codes for gun retailers, while California has been joined by Colorado and New York.

Beginning today, a California law will require credit card networks like Visa and Mastercard to provide banks with special retail codes that can be assigned to gun stores in order to track their sales.

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But new laws will do the exact opposite in Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee and Wyoming by banning the use of specific gun shop codes.

The conflicting laws highlight what has quietly emerged as one of the nation’s newest gun policy debates, dividing state capitols along familiar partisan lines.

Some Democratic lawmakers and gun-control activists hope the new retail tracking code will help financial institutions flag suspicious gun-related purchases for law enforcement agencies, potentially averting mass shootings and other crimes. Lawmakers in Colorado and New York have followed California’s lead.

“The merchant category code is the first step in the banking system saying, ‘Enough! We’re putting our foot down,’” said Hudson Munoz, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Guns Down America. “‘You cannot use our system to facilitate gun crimes.’”

But many Republican lawmakers and gun-rights advocates fear the retail code could lead to unwarranted suspicion of gun buyers who have done nothing wrong. Over the past 16 months, 17 states with GOP-led legislatures have passed measures prohibiting a firearms store code or limiting its use.

“We view this as a first step by gun-control supporters to restrict the lawful commerce in firearms,” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group that backs laws blocking use of the tracking code.

The new laws add to the wide national divide on gun policy. This past week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared gun violence a public health crisis, citing a rising number of firearm-related deaths, including more than 48,000 in 2022. The move was quickly criticized by the National Rifle Association.

States have dug opposing trench lines on other gun policies. On July 4, for example, Republican-led Louisiana will become the 29th state to allow residents to carry concealed guns without a permit.

By contrast, Democratic-led New Mexico this year tightened laws for people who don’t have concealed-carry permits, requiring a seven-day waiting period for gun purchases, which is more than double the three-day period for a federal background check.

States also have responded differently to recent mass shootings. In Maine, where an Army reservist killed 18 people and wounded 13 others, the Democratic-led Legislature passed a variety of new gun restrictions. Following school shootings in Iowa and Tennessee, the Republican-led legislatures there took steps that could allow more trained teachers to bring guns into classrooms.

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