If you go to a big box sporting goods store and spend $1,000 on camping equipment and another $1,000 on a gun and related ammunition, there’s a way for the federal government to flag that purchase.

But not in Utah due to legislation passed this last session.

It is a bit complicated, but HB406, sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, preempts Utah merchants and financial institutions from tracking the purchase of firearms or related items via a merchant category code endorsed by the International Organization for Standardization, based in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to its website, ISO is an international nonprofit organization that “brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant international standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.”

It put in place code “5723″ in September 2022 to track firearm purchases and related items such as ammunition or other accessories. It is a voluntary measure.

Aaron Varga, Doug’s Shoot’n Sports salesperson, does a paperwork check on a pistol that a customer is buying at Doug’s Shoot’n Sports in Taylorsville on Thursday, March 7, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The retailer does not flag the purchase but rather financial institutions that review credit card transactions from authorized firearms dealers.

Maloy told his colleagues this session that banks and credit unions are neutral on his bill and Utah is among a dozen or so states that are putting in stops to prevent the bird’s-eye view of personal transactions.

“This bill is designed to prevent that from happening in Utah so people, citizens of Utah, can be reassured that their Second Amendment rights are being protected; that there’s nobody following them or keeping track of them and that type of thing. And I do want to just really stress the fact that there’s been no indication that the credit card companies plan to implement this in Utah, which is a good thing,” Maloy told members of a Senate committee during the session. “And so here in the state of Utah, that practice will be illegal.”

Maloy pointed out that California has moved in the opposite direction, mandating the merchant category code be in place for personal transactions.

Why the worry?

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Sporting Shoots Council, testified in favor of the bill, emphasizing that Utah gun purchasers have a right to privacy and should be shielded by the prying eyes of the federal government.

Legally, the federal government cannot track purchases of firearms or related items beyond the initial background check to determine if it is a lawful transaction by a person who is not forbidden from owning a firearm.

That initial information is wiped clean after a few days, unless a purchase is rejected and then it is flagged.

What the merchant code would allow, he asserted, is a way for the federal government to do an “end run” around around current laws and build a database.

In a subsequent conversation about the legislation, he said it would be possible for the federal government to receive information on such purchases that could wind up in a “Suspicious Activity Report,” and possibly lead to agents at the doorstep.

“I don’t think Utahns nor Americans in general want to be on that kind of a list. I cannot see anybody that would be in favor of that,” he said.

Aaron Varga, Doug’s Shoot’n Sports salesperson, helps Les Saibo pick out accessories for his AR-15 at Doug’s Shoot’n Sports in Taylorsville on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Saibo also ordered a new handgun at the shop. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Aposhian, who also said he was speaking on behalf of the National Rifle Association, said most credit card companies have resisted the move toward a specific merchant code category for firearms purchases.

The NRA provided this statement from Visa on its website regarding the issue: “We believe that the Visa payment system is for everyone, and we strive to make our services available to all people in all places, for uses consistent with local and national laws. If a transaction is legal, Visa’s policy is to remain neutral and process the transaction. We believe that asking payment networks to serve as a moral authority by deciding which legal goods can or cannot be purchased sets a dangerous precedent.”

But Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, voted against the passage of the legislation during a brief House vote, asserting Utah is making a preemptive strike on a problem that does not yet exist.

“Why would we peremptorily shut down an activity that’s not happening in our state,” he questioned. “I just wanted further debate and I wanted more information. ... I just didn’t see enough information that it was a threat. I wondered why they’re so anxious to prevent something that’s not happening. And was wondering if collecting that information might in some way in the future be helpful.”

Briscoe emphasized he does not have an issue with people owning guns, but having such information could be helpful to deter crime.

“We know that some people sell massive amounts of guns to people and they’re not buying them for good purposes. So we don’t want to go there. There are hundreds of guns because they’re enthusiasts from hobbyists and collectors, but they don’t buy 100 at a time. They buy a handful and then they buy some more and then they buy some more. Is this bill going to prevent us from gathering information that could help law enforcement in the future?”

Les Saibo looks at accessories for his AR-15 at Doug’s Shoot’n Sports in Taylorsville on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Saibo also ordered a new handgun at the shop. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News