New York and California pensions ask credit card companies to help track suspicious gun purchases

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New York City Comptroller Brad Lander speaks at a ‘Defend Democracy’ rally, taking place on the one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Brooklyn , New York, U.S. January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid /File Photo

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Aug 30 (Reuters) – Top pension officials in New York and California want payment processors Visa Inc, (VN) Mastercard Inc (MA.N) and American Express (AXP.N) to create a new tool to track suspicious arms purchases.

Staff of New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who oversees pension funds, said he filed shareholder resolutions at Mastercard and American Express asking their boards to explain their views on whether to add a new “merchant category code” for gun stores.

Lander and a portfolio manager for the California state teachers’ retirement system made a similar request to Visa, whose deadline for 2023 shareholder proposals has passed.

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In August 29 letters to the three companies consulted by Reuters, pension officials wrote that such codes would help financial firms meet their obligations to report suspicious purchases, and noted that the four-digit codes are already assigned to specialized businesses like bowling alleys.

Currently, “banks and payment networks cannot readily identify sales made by autonomous weapons and ammunition retailers,” the officials wrote.

A Mastercard representative said it was looking into the matter and aimed to support “all lawful purchases while protecting the privacy and decisions of individual cardholders.”

Representatives for Visa and American Express did not immediately comment.

US gun rights activists say new codes could open the door to unauthorized police surveillance. An international standards body would implement the code changes.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, along with representatives on pension fund boards, supports calls for new codes, a representative said.

Mass shootings this year, including an April 12 attack on the New York City subway that injured 23, have continued a long-running American debate over gun control. Read more

While still subject to investor approval, the resolutions mark a new tactic for activists who have successfully lobbied gunmakers directly in some cases. Read more

But a measure in April asking Mastercard to flag payments involving untraceable “ghost weapons” won support from just 10% of the votes cast by shareholders.

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Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Lincoln Feast

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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