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Credit card companies to start categorizing gun store sales separately from other sales

Visa, MasterCard and American Express said the new category could help prevent violence tied to guns.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Visa, MasterCard and American Express will start marking gun sales on receipts and statements differently than other purchases. That's a change from how those sales are currently classified as "general merchandise.” Credit card companies said it could help prevent violence tied to guns.

Gun control activists said this could help predict mass shootings before they happen, and it will allow law enforcement to see if someone is buying a lot of weapons or ammunition. Opponents said they believed the change would unfairly go after gun stores and law-abiding firearm owners.

Steve Smith is the General Manager at S.E.T. Guns and Range in Oak Ridge. He is also a gun collector and enthusiast. He said for security reasons, he doesn't like the idea of a legal gun purchase being tracked and monitored.

"One of the things that supposed to make America great is the right to privacy," Smith said. "It's a personal protection thing. I don't want people who may not have the same outlook on people's possessions that I do, knowing what I have,"

Federal data from 2016 show people charged with crimes may be less likely to buy guns legally. The Department of Justice surveyed inmates arrested for gun crimes and found around 10% of those had purchased that weapon under their name from a licensed dealer.

According to the data, most inmates purchased the gun from an "underground market." However, some advocates say tracking gun sales at stores could help prevent more guns from being illegally sold later on.

"It's nobody's business what lawful people are doing," Smith said.

On the other side, local advocates said they see the merchant code change as one step in a larger push to turn up the pressure on the gun industry. 

Terry Walker-Smith has known the pain of losing a son not once, but twice. Djuansay was stabbed to death in 2007 and his brother Christopher was gunned down two years later. Thursday marked 13 years since his murder.

"If this is a measure toward gun safety then I'm all for it," Walker Smith said. "He was sitting on the porch waiting for his son to come home and he was gunned down.”

She mourns her boys every day. It's what brought her to advocate against community violence. She works with Moms Demand Action in Knoxville, advocating for a safer future. She hopes this new way to track gun purchases will hold retailers accountable.

"To save somebody else's life, because I can't save his," she said. "The devastation that I have to live with — you see these children, they're not safe in school, they’re not safe in church, you're not safe at a grocery store. Where can you be safe?"

It's unclear if or how information from the new code would be shared with law enforcement. 

"The right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in our Constitution. U.S. citizens are free to protect themselves, and the rights of law-abiding gun owners should not be infringed," wrote Rep. Tim Burchett in a letter to Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

The card companies say they'll work to support lawful purchases and protect consumer privacy.

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