New York State Police: Background checks on ammo purchases start next month

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

Ten years ago, as part of the SAFE Act, New York lawmakers mandated that all ammunition purchases go through a background check. That provision of the gun control law was put on hold back in 2015 after years of delays when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration admitted that a state-run background check system wasn’t feasible, but Gov. Kathy Hochul revived the background check measure last year and instructed the New York State Police to to figure out a way to get it done.

Now the NYSP says they’re ready to run checks on all ammo purchases, and the mandate will begin in less than a month.

Starting September 13th, the New York State Police will serve as the middleman between gun owners and the FBI conducting background checks. Those checks aren’t just needed for guns anymore, ammo is included.

Last November, Governor Hochul passed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act. One of the changes made in that act included making background checks go through the State for buying both firearms and, now, also ammunition.

Currently, background checks go through the NICS or National Instant Criminal Background Check System run by the FBI. When the State takes over next month, gun owners will also have to pay a fee for these background checks. That’s an extra $9 for firearms and $2.50 for ammunition.

That’s gonna end up being a hefty tax on most ammo purchases, and will probably result in a run on ammunition over the next few weeks. After the background check mandate takes effect, on the other hand, many gun owners may choose to wait and make bigger purchases in order to avoid paying multiple background check fees, while those living near the borders of neighboring states will probably just get in their car and drive to the nearest gun store across state lines when they need to stock up, which is going to end up hurting New York gun shops.

Brandon Lewis is the owner of The Firing Pin, a shooting range and retailer in Bergen. He says having an additional layer to go through is going to take more time and money while possibly creating safety issues.

“And we already pay our federal tax dollars that already go towards the FBI NICS system that directs the background checks,” says Lewis. “And they’re still going to do the background checks, we just have another layer of bureaucracy in between us that has not been explained how that makes anyone safer.”

He adds you can’t stop people from acquiring what they want to acquire, explaining people will go out of state or find firearms through illegal means.

Oh, I don’t think this is about making anyone safer. This is about making life just a little harder for gun owners in the state, and I doubt that the Democrats in control of the legislature are going to stop here. California, for example, not only requires background checks on ammunition sales but has made it a crime for residents to purchase ammunition out-of-state and bring it back across state lines; a law that’s currently facing a challenge in federal court. In fact, a decision in Rhode v. Bonta could be released by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez at any time and is almost certain to find the law unconstitutional. That’s not likely to stop New York lawmakers from doing the same, especially once they realize that a lot of New York gun owners are driving to Vermont, New Hampshire, or Pennsylvania to stock up.

Another possibility for the anti-gunners in Albany? Waiting periods for ammo purchases. While New York doesn’t currently have a waiting period on gun sales, that’s long been a desire of gun control activists, and any legislation introduced at the statehouse going forward will probably encompass retail sales of ammunition as well as firearms.

Democrats may also demand that only those who possess a valid NYS firearms license can purchase ammunition, which is similar to the California law being challenged. Back in 2020, Benitez issued a preliminary injunction against California’s ammunition background check scheme (the case reached the Ninth Circuit before it was remanded back to Benitez’s courtroom in light of the Bruen decision last year), opining that the mandate “defies common sense while unduly and severely burdening the Second Amendment rights of every responsible, gun-owning citizen desiring to lawfully buy ammunition.” As the California Rifle & Pistol Association was able to point out in their challenge, the “standard background check rejected citizen-residents who are not prohibited persons approximately 16.4 % of the time,” which Benitez declared was evidence that “suggests that the system is seriously flawed.”

New York’s ammunition background check law isn’t identical to California’s (at least not yet), but that’s no guarantee that it won’t be equally as flawed when the state police start conducting the checks next month. What happens, for instance, if a gun owner is wrongly denied? Who knows. The state police say they’re still working on an appeals process, and firearm retailers say they’ve received no communication from the state police on how to conduct the background checks or even given access to the form that will be sent to the NYSP to run the checks.

New York’s scheme to conduct background checks on ammo sales wasn’t ready for prime time in 2012 or 2015, and I highly doubt it’s going to be smooth sailing if and when the new mandate takes effect next month. The law is also likely to get a court challenge of its own, and hopefully we’ll soon have Judge Benitez’s decision in Rhode v. Bonta to point to in support of litigation to undo the new restriction. In the meantime, New York gun owners will be stocking up and speaking out against the ridiculous restriction, while the state’s armed criminals will shrug their collective shoulders and continue to get their guns and ammunition through illicit means as they always have. Like the rest of the state’s anti-2A laws, this one will have a much bigger negative impact on the law-abiding than lawbreakers, which I suspect is exactly what the Democrats in control of the state legislature have in mind.