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California’s new ammo law has bumpy start

An unloaded gun, with ammunition. (Photo: Sundry Photography, via Shutterstock)

Under a new law barely a month old, California is the nation’s first state to require point-of-sale background checks for ammunition sales.

But pieces of the voter-approved statute already are under fire in the courts.

The background check requirement was passed in November 2016 as part of Proposition 63, but only took effect this July. The proposition also bars people from bringing out-of-state ammo into California, unless the ammunition goes first to a state-licensed distributor.

“California will not go backwards,” Becerra said earlier in a written statement…” — Xavier Becerra.

“There is no question that we needed to take action, there is no question we had to propel Prop. 63. We’ve seen what requiring background check for guns does, it works” said Attorney General Becerra.

The law created several new gun and ammunition regulations, aimed at ensuring that various categories of people – such as those with weapons violations, a history of narcotics abuse, mental instability or a record of domestic violence — can’t continue to have firearms. It requires ammunition sellers to get one-year licenses from the state Department of Justice.

Proposition 63 also included a ban on the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, which are magazines containing more than 10 rounds. But this provision was blocked in March by a federal court, which ruled it was likely unconstitutional. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who supports the ban, has appealed, contending the decision turns back the clock on public safety. A decision is pending.

“California will not go backwards,” Becerra said earlier in a written statement.

The other sections of Proposition 63, however, went into effect this month, nearly three years after voters approved them.

As July 1 loomed this year, ammunition sales increased as customers stocked up before the new requirements took into effect.

Proposition 63 was initially designed to require individuals wishing to purchase ammunition to have first obtained a four-year permit from the state Justice Department. Dealers were required to check that permit before selling.

But in July 2016 – before Proposition 63 was approved by voters – the Legislature approved a bill that effectively barred this piece of Proposition 63 from ultimately becoming law. Instead, it ordered ammo dealers to check directly with the Department of Justice to determine if a buyer is authorized.

Failing to comply with licensing and permit requirements can result in a misdemeanor penalty for both sellers and buyers of ammunition.

Background checks are effective, Becerra said, whether for gun purchases or ammunition buys. Since California laws took effect requiring background checks on weapons, around 230 million checks have taken place, with more than a million resulting in the denial of the purchase or transfer of a weapon, he noted at a June briefing.

As July 1 loomed this year, ammunition sales increased as customers stocked up before the new requirements took into effect.

Gun and ammunition store owners also continued to express concerns over how implementing these new regulations would affect their businesses.

For out-of-state purchases, California residents are prohibited from bringing in ammunition into the state without first having it delivered to a licensed dealer.

“If you were to come in, I could not tell you exactly how it’s gonna work. I don’t know if you’re gonna wait one minute or 10 days for your ammo. So what’s that gonna do to the business?”  Norris Sweidan, owner of Warrior One Guns and Ammo in Riverside, said in a June ABC7 interview.

Sellers also are required to collect and report information — such as the buyer’s identification data, the type of ammunition sold and the date of the sale  — to the Justice Department for two-year storage in a database.  The DOJ charges ammo buyers up to $1 per transaction to support enforcement and administrative costs.

As part of the new system, gun store owners will need a laptop, printer, and stripe reader, if they do not have them already.

In California, people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm are also barred from possessing ammunition. This is the case in other states as well, although California is still the first to require a point-of-sale background check.

“Guns require a dangerous component, and that’s ammunition. It is rather curious why we advocate background checks on guns but then we limit any consideration at least nationally to that dangerous component: ammunition,” Newsom said earlier.

For out-of-state purchases, California residents are prohibited from bringing in ammunition into the state without first having it delivered to a licensed dealer.

“We Arizonans do avoid your city (needles) like the plague.” — Jamie Starr

The California Rifle & Pistol Association (which is affiliated with the National Rifle Association), Olympic skeet shooter Kim Rhode and nine others sued the state in 2018, contending that provisions of Proposition 63 – especially those concerning out of state ammunition purchases — violate the Second Amendment and impose an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce.

Beyond the courts, the out-of-state ammunition sale provision has sparked opposition from a number of local officials.

The town of Needles in San Bernardino County, for example, has declared itself a “gun sanctuary,” following a resolution spearheaded by local Councilman Tim Terrall seeking a more lenient enforcement of these new laws. A number of other communities have either declared themselves sanctuary cities or are considering it.

The Needle resolution is motivated in part by Needles’ geography: It is located near Nevada and borders Arizona. Locals fear that California’s strict ammunition laws are discouraging neighboring state individuals from coming to their town, effectively weakening Needles’ economy.

Jamie Starr, an NRA training counselor who has permits in four states to carry guns, argued in support of the resolution at the June 11 Needles City Council meeting. “We Arizonans do avoid your city like the plague,” Starr said.

“We’ve got 1,400 to 1,600 voters, and they always look at San Francisco and L.A. for what they want to pass … ” — Jeff Williams

Starr, a self-described “California refugee,” is a resident of Bullhead City in Arizona.

“Instead of being an outstanding citizen and community leader, if I do not comply with draconian laws designed to strip my right to self-defense and turn me into a victim, I am considered a criminal, a felon,” Starr told the council.

If people are certified to carry concealed firearms in another state, they cannot come into California carrying a weapon containing out-of-state ammunition. Some states allow for reciprocity on this matter, California does not.

“You know they never think about us out here,” Needles Mayor Jeff Williams said in an interview with KNPR’s State of Nevada. “We’ve got 1,400 to 1,600 voters, and they always look at San Francisco and L.A. for what they want to pass, and by God, they pass it, and they never think about us. They never think about the little places.”

Republican state Assemblymember Jay Obernolte’s district includes Needles. He said he supports the town’s efforts and even plans to introduce a bill next legislative session that would allow cities to opt-in to Second Amendment sanctuary city policies.

Editor’s Note: Nahima Shaffer is a Capitol Weekly intern from the University of California at Davis.


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