Credit Card Companies Targeted on Gun Sales

TALLAHASSEE — Credit-card companies could face fines up to $10,000 per violation for tracking firearm and ammunition sales in Florida, under a measure approved Tuesday by a Senate committee.

The Republican-controlled Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 7-3 along party lines to approve a bill (SB 214) that would target yet-to-be-enacted plans by some credit-card companies to create a separate “merchant category code” for sales at firearm businesses.

Similar four-digit codes are already used to separate purchases and collect data from places such as grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and bookstores.

Bill sponsor Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, pointed to a Florida prohibition on gun-sale registries and said the bill would prevent data collection.

“In Florida, we take it very seriously to protect consumers’ rights, gun rights and their right to privacy, and I believe that this MCC (merchant category code) would lead to the creation of a registry in essence, potentially having a chilling effect on constitutional rights,” Burgess said. “We’re basically putting teeth behind current law in Florida, which prevents government and private registries.”

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In September, Visa joined Mastercard and American Express in announcing plans to categorize gun shop sales. Gun-control advocates say the move would help track suspicious sales tied to potential mass shootings.

Democrats expressed concern the bill could hinder law-enforcement efforts to prevent mass shootings.

“There’s a lot of things that go on in these investigations, and sadly we’re in a crisis across this country,” said Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat and former New York City transit police detective. “Every day, every weekend we hear about shootings in our counties, in our state, across the nation. And this state should be more aware as to the purchasing of guns and ammunition.”

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The bill, a priority of state Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, says that “creation or maintenance of records of purchases of firearms or ammunition or the tracking of sales made by a retailer of firearms or ammunition by a nongovernmental entity, including a financial institution, without a substantial and historical business need or a requirement imposed by law, may frustrate the right to keep and bear arms and violate the reasonable privacy rights of lawful purchasers of firearms or ammunition.”

In barring the assignment of a merchant category code, the bill would direct the Simpson-led Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to investigate alleged violations and impose fines up to $10,000 for each violation.

The bill is filed for consideration during the legislative session that will start March 7. Rep. John Snyder, R-Stuart, has filed an identical bill (HB 221) in the House.

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