AG's in 16 States Embrace Background Checks On Ammo Purchases

California’s law requiring background checks on every purchase of ammunition has been a gigantic clusterfark since it took effect back in 2018. Since then, tens of thousands of Californians have been denied the ability to purchase ammunition because of problems with the government’s database of gun owners, while others have had to wait through lengthy delays to simply purchase a box or two of ammunition.

Back in April, a federal judge issued a stay on enforcement of the law, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals quickly overruled the lower court, and the law remains in effect for the time being, though the case (known as Rhode vs. Becerra) is still actively being litigated. On Monday, a coalition of 16 attorneys general, all of them Democrats, filed a friend of the court brief arguing that the California law is constitutional and urged the court to permanently vacate the district court’s injunction.

If you live in Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, or Washington you should know that your attorney general has given the green light for your state legislature to implement California-style ammunition control if they want.

First, the amici States object to the district court’s conclusion that the Second Amendment constrained California’s ability to enact the ammunition regulations at issue here. As the Supreme Court has recognized, the Second Amendment allows States to address the harmful effects of gun violence through new regulations. And California’s ammunition regulations—which are similar to numerous laws across the country—are an appropriate exercise of that prerogative.

Second, the amici States disagree with the district court’s apparent view that California’s interests in public safety and crime prevention cannot be substantiated by the types of evidence presented here. On the contrary, it is settled that States may support their interests in public safety and crime prevention with a wide range of evidence, including social science studies and legislative findings.

First off, there’s no other state in the country that requires background checks on ammunition sales, though the requirement was part of the SAFE Act signed into law in New York in 2013. The New York State Police never figured out how to actually conduct the background checks, however, and in 2015 Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended the requirement due to the failure of his administration to find a way to implement the law.

The AG’s brief ignores New York’s failure and tries instead to point to laws in several states that they claim bear a strong resemblance to the law being challenged in California.

Relevant here, a number of States have also extended background checks or similar requirements to ammunition sales within their jurisdictions. Indeed, four States in addition to California require some form of background check to purchase ammunition. Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey currently require that individuals possess a license or firearms identification card—which requires passing a background check—before purchasing ammunition.

The District of Columbia also imposes restrictions on ammunition sales; District residents may only purchase ammunition if they are listed as a registered owner of a firearm of the same caliber or gauge as the ammunition they seek to purchase. D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2505.02(d), 7-2506.01. Nonresidents seeking to purchase ammunition must demonstrate that they lawfully possess a firearm of the same caliber or gauge. Id. § 7-2505.02(d). And like California, the District also requires all ammunition sales to be conducted in-person.

None of the states mentioned by the AG’s require background checks to be performed before every ammunition purchase, and none of them prohibit ammunition purchased out-of-state from being brought back home by legal gun owners. In fact, if that’s the law in Washington, D.C., no gun owner in the city would be able to purchase ammunition, because there are zero gun stores in the District. It’s laughable that the anti-gun attorneys general are citing a law that is utterly unenforceable in their quest to have California’s ammunition background check law declared constitutional.

If you’re a Second Amendment legal nerd, be sure to read the entire brief. And if you live in one of these 16 states with AG’s backing California’s asinine infringement on the right to keep and bear arms, you better contact your lawmakers now and urge them to reject any attempt to impose California-style ammunition purchase restrictions, even if your attorney general has given the go-ahead.