The Time I Got Busted Using a Credit Card at a Gun Store

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.

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11 comments

  1. “At the same time, I do regularly wonder whether my benign outlook on these things is too naive.”

    I don’t know that I’d use “naive,” but perhaps Pollyannaish. I expect Murphy’s Law, at best. At worst, this will be a great tool for folks to act maliciously.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The policy was touted as allowing for the flagging of “suspicious” purchases. ‘Suspicious’ was not defined, but would most likely include, inter alia, normal quantities of ammo. This could lead to harassing inquiries from LE similar to the call you received from campus police.

    Anti-gun culture vehemently rejects the normalcy of gun ownership, and seeks to stigmatize it with measures like this.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I imagine some might consider buying a bucket of 9mm rather than a box suspicious. Or multiple guns in a month or two. I agree that “suspicious” can be in the eye of the beholder and some beholders are suspicious of even one owning guns.

      Guess I better alternate credit cards.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I had a rare, civil discussion online with a rare, open-minded gun control advocate. She figured >50 rounds purchased at a time would be excessive & unnecessary. I let her know you can run through 50 rounds or more easy in one target practice session, and mentioned how, during the shortage/panic, I was buying 500 rd bulk crates in 2 to 3 calibers each in one purchase.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing your “run-in with the law”. And this was before the present MCC addition! What kind of “pattern of illegality” (my words) and reasonable suspicion is established by looking at private purchases? Does this, plus whatever other elements in a “totality of circumstances” package, lead to probable cause for arrest at the state and/or federal level?
    The credit card people aren’t interested in a gun registry, or at least that’s their official ‘feel’ I get from their current statements. But it’s just none of the demanding moms’ business what I buy. Can purchases be used as part of an “ESG”, or individual, social credit score? Aunty Anti sure pushed hard for this, so I don’t like it to begin with. Thank you again, professor.

    Liked by 3 people

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