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Bill from GOP's Stefanik sets up duel on gun sales codes

By Ross Kerber

Feb 23 (Reuters) - A bill to be introduced by U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik and two other Republicans would bar the use of a new sales code for gun merchants, according to material seen by Reuters on Friday, setting up a clash with Democrats promoting the four-digit marker.

While neither side may prevail in the closely-divided Congress, their competing bills show the continuing debate around use of a new merchant category code (MCC), an international standards body approved in 2022.

Visa and Mastercard have said they will comply with a California law requiring use of the code, according to letters sent to lawmakers.

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But the companies have paused their work to implement the code elsewhere, citing recent laws in Republican-controlled states meant to defend gun rights.

Proponents say the codes would help banks flag suspicious purchases. The new code will not show specific items purchased, but will identify where a person shopped by adding firearms stores to a list of hundreds of retail categories from snowmobile dealers to wig shops.

The bill filed by Stefanik of New York, the fourth-ranking Republican in Congress, and by House members Andy Barr of Kentucky and Richard Hudson of North Carolina, would preempt state laws and prohibit networks from assigning codes distinguishing firearms retailers from general-merchandise or sporting-goods stores.

"The tracking of gun purchases is a violation and infringement on the Constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans," Stefanik said in a statement.

A rival Democratic bill from Representative Maxwell Frost of Florida would bar states from prohibiting the use of any MCC.

Frost's district includes the part of Orlando where 49 people were killed by a gunman at the Pulse nightclub in 2016. Frost has cited a report that the shooter bought more than $26,000 worth of guns and ammunition on credit just before the massacre.

Representatives for Visa did not respond to questions for this article. A Mastercard representative declined to comment.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber Editing by Bill Berkrot)