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State pension fund pushing Mastercard to address ghost gun purchases

A 3D-printed gun called the Liberator.
Eric Gay
A 3D-printed gun called the Liberator.

The Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Fund (CRPTF) reached agreements with five companies over resolution of social responsibility issues ranging from climate impact disclosure to board diversity. But it is still working with Mastercard Inc. on another big issue – ghost gun sales.

The fund joined Rhode Island ahead of the 2022 shareholder proxy season in calling on Mastercard to evaluate how it will address transactions involving unregistered firearms – mostly build your own kits – known as “ghost guns.”

However, Seth Eisen, a spokesman for Mastercard, said that it’s “the responsibility of elected officials to enact meaningful policies to address the issue of gun violence, while it remains Mastercard’s role to ensure that consumers are permitted to make lawful purchases on our network.”

“Where laws prohibit the sale of unserialized firearms parts, we are working to ensure Mastercard products cannot be used to purchase them,” Eisen said. “We will continue to engage with lawmakers, law enforcement and others on important topics such as this.”

Legal experts point out that even if all Mastercard stockholders were to vote in favor of the proposal, it will not compel the company to do anything. Even if approved, the board is not required to act upon it.

“The pension funds want Mastercard to decline to process lawful transactions – transactions that the federal government or state governments do not prohibit,” said Minor Myers, professor of law, at the UConn School of Law. “Mastercard's position – a very reasonable one – is that they process payments; they don't regulate conduct or draw distinctions among lawful transactions.”

The recent exception, though, Myers said, is that Mastercard and Visa cut ties with internet pornography company Pornhub after intense media attention, “and no doubt that's the model that the pension funds are pursuing here.”

Myers emphasized that public pressure is required on key issues like gun sales, and while it will not solve any policy problems with ghost guns if Mastercard backs out of processing their transactions, “surely it would at least make things harder for sellers of gun parts to operate, of course, without use of the Mastercard network.”

In 2019, Gov. Ned Lamont banned “ghost guns” in Connecticut, but guns manufactured prior to 2019 were grandfathered in. The fund expects the resolution to be presented to shareholders at Mastercard’s annual general meeting in June.

Sujata Srinivasan is a Senior Producer for 'Where We Live,' the flagship news-based, call-in talk show from Connecticut Public Radio, featuring deep dives at the intersection of data-driven narrative and investigative long-form journalism. She's also an editor for the Connecticut Public newsroom.