The recent brouhaha over the establishment of a new credit card merchant code to categorize sales at gun stores reminded me of a funny (in retrospect) experience I had with my Wake Forest University-issued Visa card back in 2014, just a couple of years into my research on American gun culture.
It all began with the $249 registration I paid to attend the 2014 Rangemaster Politie Society Tactical Conference in Memphis, Tennessee.
My study of American gun culture was aided at the start by a small grant from Wake Forest University. I used the funds to subscribe to magazines, buy DVDs and books, join gun organizations, and attend training events. The events included the Massad Ayoob Group’s “Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement” (MAG-40) in 2012 and the last Polite Society Tactical Conference held at the Rangemaster facility in Memphis in 2014.
Then, as now, you had to sign up for the Tactical Conference well in advance of its Spring date. I signed up in the Fall of 2013 and paid the event fee using my grant funds on my Wake Forest-issued Visa card. So far, so good.
In November of 2013, while I was at the American Society of Criminology annual meetings in Atlanta, I missed a call on my cell phone from the Wake Forest University Police. Having no idea what was up, I immediately stepped outside the Marriott Marquis and called back.
The officer, whose name I cannot recall, told me, “We’re not saying you did anything wrong, but did you use your university credit card to buy a firearm?”
Although I was pretty certain I had done nothing wrong, a nervous lump immediately formed in my stomach. I racked my brain to try to figure out what had happened. Had I accidentally given a gun store the wrong credit card when buying a gun? Did I buy a gun through Davidson’s on-line and auto-populate the wrong credit card?
“Uh, um, I don’t think so,” I finally responded.
“Well, we’re seeing a charge for a couple hundred dollars at a gun store in Tennessee,” he explained.
I continued to search for a memory of this gun purchase. “A gun store in Tennessee,” I thought aloud.
“Rangemaster,” he said.
My anxiety immediately dissipated as I realized what had happened. Somehow the charge for my Tactical Conference tuition got flagged as a gun purchase.
I still don’t know why. Perhaps commercial card accounts have a more elaborate set of markers for tracking purchases Perhaps Rangemaster was registered as an FFL and that triggered an alert in Wake Forest’s procurement office.
Until this recent controversy about a Merchant Category Code (MCC) for firearms retailers, I had not thought about this incident for some time. When I do think about it, it is usually in the course of telling a “funny tale” from my gun research.
I cannot say I have followed the MCC controversy closely, as I generally live my life in such a way that I don’t fear running afoul of the law. So, how would the MCC affect me negatively? At the same time, I do regularly wonder whether my benign outlook on these things is too naive.
As with most things guns, I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, between my naivete and others’ paranoia.