Could Tracking Credit Card Use Identify Would-Be Mass Shooters?

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While mass shootings set off debates on guns focused on regulating firearms and on troubled youths, little attention is paid to the financial industry. A New York Times examination of mass shootings shows credit cards have become crucial in the planning. There have been 13 shootings that killed 10 or more people in the last decade. In at least eight, killers financed attacks using credit cards. Those eight shootings killed 217 people. Investigations uncovered a trove of information about the killers’ spending. There were red flags, if only someone were able to look for them, experts say. “Banks will complain this is the government’s job and it’s not our job, but you know what? They are the only ones with the ability to do this,” said Kevin Sullivan, a former New York Police Department fraud investigator, now president of the Anti-Money Laundering Training Academy.

Banks and credit-card networks say it is not their responsibility to track gun purchases. “We do not believe Visa should be in the position of setting restrictions on the sale of lawful goods or services,” said a spokeswoman. A Mastercard spokesman agreed, emphasizing protection of “cardholders’ independence” and the “privacy of their own purchasing decisions.”  Before James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others at an Aurora, Co., movie theater in 2012, he used a new Mastercard to help buy more than $11,000 in weapons and military gear. “This was a civilian making these orders, not the police and not the military,” said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica, died in the attack. “Someone should have noticed.” Banks are required to report transactions of $10,000 by a single person, even if those transactions are legal. Banks also must file reports for transactions of more than $5,000 that the financial institution “has reason to suspect” are part of a plan to “violate or evade any federal law.”

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