Assemblyman Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, said he will bring back controversial legislation that would impose new restrictions on the sale of firearms ammunition. When he does, he will jump into a gun law debate that could find California moving toward an all-purpose ID card for guns and ammunition.
De Leon’s bill, AB362, would have created a licensing and registration system governing ammunition sales. As originally written, it would have required the state Department of Justice to create a database of registered ammunition vendors. It also would have demanded that vendors keep ammunition behind the counter and conduct background checks on any employees who handled ammunition.
The bill would have also strengthened penalties on anyone who tried to use a fake ID to buy ammunition; sales are currently limited to people 21 and over. This led it into a thorny legal area. In order to purchase a handgun, a buyer must go through a background check and a 10-day waiting period. By strengthening ID requirements, De Leon was taking another step toward forcing a similar background check for ammunition buyers.
De Leon said his goal was to lower the number of ammunition dealers in the state. This, in turn, would make it easier to limit large-scale sales of ammunition that could end up in the hands of criminals or the mentally ill.
“Everyone who drives a car goes through the DMV process,” De Leon said to illustrate the stronger controls on other potentially dangerous purchases.
Ammunition is widely viewed as the next big battlefield in the gun debate — that is, pending the outcome of a Second Amendment case out of Washington, D.C., that the Supreme Court is set to hear in a few weeks. In October, another freshman Democrat, Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, was able to get a controversial microstamping bill into law. AB1471 mandates that handguns must stamp a serial number on the shell of every bullet fired.
In August, Senate Public Safety Committee chair Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, turned AB362 into a study bill; it now sits in the Senate Appropriations Committee awaiting the $318,000 that would be needed to complete the study. Her decision prompted a tense exchange with De Leon. At the time this was seen as a fallout of a political rivalry between Romero and Speaker Fabian Núñez; De Leon is a close ally of the speaker.
However, Irwin Nowick had a different read on the situation. A senior consultant in the Senate Rules Committee, Nowick is widely seen as one of the state’s leading experts on gun laws.
“The reason to do a study is because this is really complicated,” Nowick said. “We don’t want a New Jersey-type situation where registered handgun owners can’t buy ammunition.”
On Jan. 8, New Jersey Gov. John Corzine signed a bill adding restrictions on ammunition sales. A-2602 requires people to show one of several types of IDs in order to buy ammunition, such as a gun registration card, a hunting license or a concealed carry permit. However, the new law has caused problems with the state's voluntary handgun registration system–and political problems for several Republicans who voted for the bill. The bill goes into affect in April. Democratic lawmakers are already drafting another bill to correct the problems in the language of A-2602.
"The problem and irony is that New Jersey registered handgun owners will have to get a rifle/shotgun acquisition permit to acquire handgun ammunition," Nowick said.
De Leon said he is currently looking at changes in his own legislation. The National Rifle Association and several other gun-rights groups were opposed to the original version. However, some of those opponents may back off of a revised version.
“One of the biggest loopholes is that ammunition isn’t regulated,” said Robert Ricker, executive director of the American Hunters & Shooters Association.
Ricker said he could get behind a bill strengthening ID requirements for buying ammunition — especially if gun owners got something in return. Gun groups have been very critical of the 10-day waiting period for handgun purchases, noting that the checks generally take a fraction of that time.
Another step toward an all-purpose ID may have happened on Tuesday when SB327 passed through Senate Public Safety without opposition. This bill from Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, would increase the California Department of Justice’s responsibilities for tracking handgun transactions. But it would also create for the first time a fee-supported handgun registration card through the state DOJ.
Ricker said such a card would provide gun owners with some protections — especially those who sell a gun only to find out it was used in a crime several years later. “We want gun owners to be able to know which guns are listed under their name in case problems come up later. This establishes a clear chain.”
Nowick and De Leon have both said they would oppose any change in the ten day waiting period to buy guns. Nowick notes such a change would bring the state into conflict with federal gun law. Migden is also on record opposing such a change.