A California Gun Law Is Blocking Legal Gun Owners From Buying Ammo

California’s relatively new law requiring background checks for ammunition purchases is getting off to a rocky start, and thousands of legal gun owners have been ensnared in bureaucratic red tape and now find themselves unable or delayed in purchasing ammunition.

That revelation comes from Ryan Sabalow of the Sacramento Bee, who’s out with a very enlightening report on the many problems with the implementation of the law.

Zachary Berg usually buysguns and ammunition with relative ease. After all, he’s a Sutter County sheriff’s deputy and needs them for his job. California’s stringent gun laws usually don’t apply to him.

But Berg couldn’t buy shotgun shells at his local hardware store in Yuba City prior to a duck hunting trip last month. He was rejected under California’s stringent ammunition background check program that took effect July 1, because his personal information didn’t match what state officials had in their database.

Berg was one of tens of thousands of Californians who have been turned away from buying ammunition at firearms and sporting goods stores, even though they appear to be lawfully able to do so, a Sacramento Bee review of state data shows. Between July 1 and November, nearly one in every five ammunition purchases was rejected by the California Department of Justice, the figures show.

Of the 345,547 ammunition background checks performed, only 101 stopped the buyer because he or she was a “prohibited person” who can’t legally possess ammunition, according to state Department of Justice data.

As Sabalow notes, there were 62,000 legal gun owners blocked from purchasing ammunition, compared to just 101 prohibited persons. That is scandalous, or at least it should be. Unfortunately, this is California we’re talking about, so officials seem unconcerned about depriving tens of thousands of residents their right to keep and bear arms.

Kevin de León, the former Democratic state Senate leader who championed the background check legislation, said the issues ammunition buyers are experiencing are easily fixable and shouldn’t detract from the important work the background check system is doing to keep Californians safe.

“We can easily overcome this technical issue,” said de León, who’s currently running for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. “To the NRA and others who don’t believe that we should keep our communities safe from gunfire, I would say stop the hyperbole over a technical issue that’s easily solvable and be part of the solution to reduce dramatically the numbers of needless killings that happen in our communities every single day.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who championed Proposition 63, which included a separate ammunition measure that was approved by voters in 2016, didn’t respond to questions about the rejections.

Sorry Kevin, but if these issues were easily fixable, they probably would have been fixed by now, don’t you think? The “technical issue” that de León refers to isn’t a technical issue at all. It’s a flaw in the way the system was set up, as Sabalow explains in his report.

The DOJ says court filing says more than 19,000 ammunition buyers weren’t in the database at all, so they were denied when they went to buy ammo. More than 22,000 were rejected because of address mismatches, many of them due to having moved since they last bought a gun. Nearly 8,000 people had names in the state’s gun registry that didn’t match their identification, according to the Department of Justice filing.

Christopher Lapinski, operations manager the Sacramento gun store Last Stand Readiness & Tactical, said he’s been forced to reject more ammunition sales than he’s been able to approve, most of them involving mismatches between the Department of Justice database and what the Department of Motor Vehicles put on a customer’s driver’s license. He said it’s been especially frustrating to deny sales to retired law enforcement officers and active-duty members of the military.

“You could be a Navy SEAL yesterday, but didn’t buy a gun in California, and now you can’t buy ammo,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, anti-gun activists aren’t concerned about their “commonsense gun safety regulation” impacting the ability of tens of thousands of California gun owners from training, hunting, competing, and acting in self-defense.

Gun-control advocates say the issues ammunition buyers are having are merely minor inconveniences that will get sorted out as the database is updated.

Ari Freilich, an attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, likened it to a traveler having to go through security at an airport. He said the system is already working as intended. He pointed to the 101 people who were legally forbidden from possessing ammunition being prohibited from buying it. He argues an unknown number of other dangerous people likely didn’t make the attempt, knowing they’d be caught breaking the law.

“Any one of those people, they were committing a serious crime trying to acquire a product designed to take human life,” Freilich said. “And they were stopped from doing so in that moment.”

The system is working as intended? It’s intended to prevent tens of thousands of Californians from being able to actually use their firearms for lawful purposes, as long as hundred prohibited persons were blocked from legally buying ammunition?

Note as well what Freilich said. These prohibited persons were stopped in the moment from acquiring ammunition. Who knows what happened next. Were any of these individuals prosecuted? Did any of them go on to steal ammunition, or acquire it on the black market?

No, the real impact of this law has been felt by law-abiding citizens. Thankfully, Olympian and Californian Kim Rhode is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the state’s ammunition background check law, and while a judge allowed the law to take effect, this data is going to be extremely helpful in pointing out the harm that’s being done to law-abiding gun owners by this ineffective and infringing regulation.

Do yourself a favor and go read the full report by Ryan Sabalow. It’s well worth your time, and it’s fantastic to see a mainstream media outlet give California’s gun control laws the scrutiny they deserve. Kudos to Sabalow for some great journalism.