NY Attorney General's latest target? Online ammunition companies

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

Is buying ammunition online illegal in the state of New York? Well, it depends on who you ask, but according to New York Attorney General Letitia James it is a crime to ship ammunition to online buyers thanks to the state’s SAFE Act, and she’s warning dozens of online retailers that they risk “serious legal consequences” if they continue to sell to New York residents.

In a press release, James claims that she’s merely enforcing the terms of the New York SAFE Act, which was passed back in 2013 and required all ammunition sales in New York to go through a background check once the state had set up a system to run the checks. A decade later, however, and no such system exists, but James still maintains the law is in effect.

“Shipping bullets to New Yorkers’ doorsteps is illegal and ammunition sellers that ignore the law will face the full force of my office,” said Attorney General James. “Online sales of ammunition are dangerous and could end up in the wrong hands. We are taking action to protect communities and enforce our responsible gun laws. Ammunition sellers must stop illegally bringing ammo into New York. My office will continue to use every tool at our disposal to protect the safety of everyday New Yorkers.”

The OAG identified 39 ammunition sellers, including two based in New York, that were illegally shipping ammunition to New York residents. Attorney General James warned sellers that such violations could carry penalties of up to $5,000 for each individual violation and may subject them to disgorgement of all income resulting from these illegal sales. In addition, Attorney General James demanded that the sellers take every necessary step to preserve all physical and electronic records related to these sales.

I’m really hoping one or more of these online retailers responds with a request for James to go pound sand. For nearly a decade online sales have continued to take place in New York, in large part because the system to conduct background checks on gun owners has never come close to fruition. In fact, back in 2015 then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a memorandum of understanding that suspended the provisions of the law that referenced “the use” of the database to “implement and enforce” the background check requirement.

As NRA-ILA points out, the confusing language was vague and murky when it came to the status of online ammunition sales while the database was still in the theoretical stage, but there doesn’t appear to have been any attempt to enforce the supposed ban on online sales until this year, when New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that Cuomo’s MOU was no longer in effect.

Although Hochul’s new law, misleadingly titled the “Concealed Carry Improvement Act,” does not address the sale of ammunition, it was during that aforementioned press conference Hochul used to announce her flaunting her contempt of SCOTUS that may have shed some light on the recent actions of AG James.

Hochul declared, while ranting about the Bruen decision, that she had discovered the old Cuomo MOU. She claimed the MOU “blocked the State from taking critical measures to keep ammunition away from criminals.” She then stated, “So we are literally tearing it up and New York will now require and conduct background checks for all ammunition purchases.”

It remains to be seen how she will “require and conduct background checks for all ammunition purchases” when the necessary database for implementation of that aspect of the SAFE Act still does not exist.

Perhaps more noteworthy, though, is the fact that AG James had not done anything to act on what she claims to be violations of the SAFE Act allegedly committed by ammunition sellers until AFTER Hochul declared the Cuomo MOU no longer in effect.

It is certainly conceivable that the 29 ammunition sellers James has said she is targeting have been operating in a manner that they believed was in complete compliance with the SAFE Act and the Cuomo MOU. And considering the stridently anti-gun positions James has held for years, it is also conceivable that she, too, felt that these sellers were in compliance for the four years since she became AG, and is only now taking action because Gov. Hochul rescinded the MOU.

The problem is that while Hochul may have rescinded the MOU, there’s still no system to conduct background checks on ammunition sales throughout New York, and no timeline on when one might be established. Those buying ammo in person aren’t subject to any more scrutiny than someone buying a box or two online, yet James (and Hochul) are trying to turn a simple commercial transaction into a criminal offense based on nothing more than their overly expansive reading of the constitutionally questionable SAFE Act.

James’ latest crackdown on the exercise of a civil right isn’t going to prevent violent criminals from illegally accessing guns or ammunition. Instead, it appears designed to harass responsible New York gun owners and the firearms industry. I’d expect nothing else from one of the most vociferous opponents of the right to keep and bear arms, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that some of these online retailers will choose to challenge her edict in court instead of complying with her demands.