Florida legislature takes aim to ban use of controversial special merchant code for gun stores

 January 19, 2023

In 2022, the International Organization for Standardization unveiled a new Merchant Category Code specifically for purchases at gun stores that, according to gun control advocates who support the move, banks and credit card companies will use to ostensibly flag "suspicious" purchases of firearms and ammunition by potential criminals and mass shooters.

Gun rights advocates argued that the new MCC will actually be used to chill Second Amendment activity by tracking and registering the purchases of lawful gun owners, and now the GOP-led Florida legislature is pushing to criminalize the use of that special code, the Tampa Free Press reported.

With support from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson (R), identical bills were filed in both the House and Senate that would prohibit the use of the MCC in the state and impose substantial fines for each violation against any bank or credit card company or financial institution that makes use of the prohibited code.

Problems with the new Merchant Category Code for gun stores

NPR reported in Sept. 2022 on the new MCC devised by the ISO to be specifically applied to gun stores, which previously fell under the broader MCCs for miscellaneous retail stores or sporting goods retailers.

As noted, gun control advocates cheered the move as a way to possibly identify criminals and would-be mass shooters before the commission of any gun crimes -- even though the codes would only show the total amount of a purchase and not provide specific details on whether the purchase was firearms and ammunition or merely accessories or equipment like a gun safe.

Gun rights advocates who oppose the new MCC argued that the codes would be totally ineffective for the stated purpose of preventing future mass shootings but would be highly effective in violating the Second Amendment and the privacy rights of lawful gun owners.

They also expressed concerns that the code could be used to compile lists and registries of gun owners that could then be used by gun control groups to harass and target gun owners or by the companies themselves as an excuse to cease processing any lawful firearms-related business transactions.

Prohibitions and penalties

Enter Commissioner Simpson, who announced last week, according to local Fox affiliate WTVT, that he intended to ban the use of the new MCC for gun stores in Florida due to the broad potential for the code to be misused.

Per the Tampa Free Press, Simpson is supported in that effort by state Sen. Danny Burgess (R) and state Rep. John Snyder (R), who each filed in their respective chambers identical bills known as SB 214 and HB 221.

That legislation lays out all of the many concerns and findings from lawmakers about the potential misuse of the gun store-specific MCC, particularly with regard to a pre-existing prohibition against the creation and use of any sort of "list, record, or registry of legally owned firearms or law-abiding firearm owners" in the state.

As such, the bill then clarified the prohibition against lists and registries and banned any "payment settlement entity, merchant acquiring entity, or third party settlement organization" from making use of the new MCC in the state, with felony penalties and costly fines for any violations.

Indeed, any "governmental entity" or individual who aids in the creation or maintenance of any list or registry could face third-degree felony charges and a fine of up to $5 million, while any company or entity found to be using the new MCC for gun stores after an investigation could also face felony charges and a fine of $10,000 per each violation, according to WTVT.

Unknown if the bill will pass or if DeSantis will sign it into law

The Tampa Free Press noted that the filed bills will be considered once the state legislature begins its regular session that is scheduled to commence on March 7.

It is unclear if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) backs this particular measure, but given his previously expressed strong support for the Second Amendment-protected right to keep and bear arms, it seems likely that he would sign this bill into law if it is passed by the legislature and ends up on his desk.

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