Florida lawmakers have competing visions for ammo sales in the state

Florida lawmakers have competing visions for ammo sales in the state
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

The big Second Amendment issue in the Florida legislature this year is going to be Constitutional (or permitless) carry, but that won’t be the only 2A-related topic that’s on the minds of lawmakers. Ammunition is also a big concern, with Republicans vowing to protect the privacy rights of gun and ammunition buyers, while Democrats want to subject ammo purchases to new restrictions.

Specifically, Democrats are calling for all ammunition sales in the state to go through a background check before the seller can transfer the bullets to a buyer.

State law prohibits people with felony records from buying ammunition, but doesn’t require everyone to undergo a criminal background check to purchase bullets and shells. Right now, a background check is required to purchase a gun.

“If guns require a background check, then so should the bullets that do the harm,” said Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) in a recent statement. Polsky is sponsoring the measure — SB 146 — which would require weapons dealers to perform a criminal background check on buyers who want to purchase ammunition.

The bill wouldn’t require background checks for the transfer of ammunition at a shooting range or for hunting, as long as there’s no reason to believe the person using the ammunition plans to break any laws.

The proposed measure is called “Jaime’s Law.” It’s named after 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, who lost her life in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

In a statement, Jaime’s father Fred Guttenberg said that he believes the measure would “help save lives immediately.”

“If someone is prohibited from buying a firearm then it would only make sense they would also be prohibited from purchasing ammunition,” he said. “We must close this ammunition loophole and this bill is a step in the right direction to do it.”

There’s not much evidence that universal background checks on gun sales are an impediment to criminals (violent crime has continued to climb after Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington all implemented the policy in recent years), but I this isn’t really a data-driven idea. Instead, it’s an anti-gun ideology behind the push, which frankly isn’t going to go far in a statehouse where Republicans not only hold wide majorities in both chambers but have very different priorities when it comes to ammo sales.

Polsky’s not-so-bright idea would require the state of Florida to come up with its own background check system in order to conduct the sales since the federally-run NICS system doesn’t do checks on ammo sales; something that’s stymied the state of New York for a decade. Back in 2013, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed ammunition background checks into law as part of the SAFE Act, but the provision never took effect after the State Police determined there was no easy or inexpensive way to establish the system. Last year Gov. Kathy Hochul revived the ammunition background check law, instructing the State Police to move forward in getting a system up and running, and it’s supposed to take effect in September, but it’s very much an open question as to whether or not the state will be able to meet its deadline.

Given the strong GOP majorities in Florida and the Democratic debacle surrounding ammunition background checks in states like New York, I’m not too concerned about this bad idea getting traction in Tallahassee. I’m much more intrigued by the proposal put forward by Florida Republicans, which would forbid collecting data on gun and ammunition sales in the state.

In September, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) approved the use of a merchant code for firearms stores, which financial institutions, such as credit card companies, can voluntarily adopt to track firearm-related purchases. The “Florida Arms and Ammo Act” would fine credit card companies up to $10,000 per violation, according to WTSP 10News.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson, Republican state Sen. Danny Burgess and Republican state Rep. John Snyder unveiled the legislation, according to the release.

“The ‘Florida Arms and Ammo Act’ draws a line in the sand and tells multi-national progressive financial institutions, and their allies in Washington, that they cannot covertly create a backdoor firearm registry of Floridians – or else,” Simpson said in the release.

“This is the United States of America. You don’t get penalized for exercising a Constitutional right. The Second Amendment is nonnegotiable, and here in Florida, we are going to fight to protect the rights of Floridians,” Burgess said in the release.

I’m not opposed to this at all, though I do wonder how exactly the state of Florida will be able to monitor the credit card companies to determine if and when they’ve violated the law. Simply adopting the merchant codes might be good enough to levy one $10,000 fine, but that’s hardly going to impact the bottom line of Visa or Mastercard.

It doesn’t appear that the text of the Florida Arms and Ammo Act is available online yet, but I’m looking forward to learning the details of the proposal and how it would be enforced. EBetween the Democrat and Republican agendas on ammunition sales, however, I’ll take the GOP plan that respects the rights of gun owners over the plan to make it harder (and more expensive, given that Polsky’s bill would allow for a background check fee of up to eight dollars for every transaction) to exercise a fundamental civil right.