Ammunition laws

Buying ammunition for firearms is about to get more expensive and more complicated as implementation of Proposition 63 — referred to as the Safety for All Act of 2016 — will make California the first state to require background checks for ammunition purchasers.

“In so many ways, on the issue of gun safety from 1993 forward, California has led,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom during a June 25 press conference in Sacramento. “We have seen, as a consequence of that, a significant decline of the murder rate in this state that goes well beyond the trend line, nationally. Gun safety laws save lives.”

The second phase of Proposition 63 will take effect July 1, which will require retailers to obtain approval by checking the purchaser’s identity against the Department of Justice’s Automated Firearms System. The legislation also allows the retailer to assess a transaction fee to cover the authorization’s cost.

“To the best knowledge that we’ve received from the Department of Justice, that will start with background checks for every purchase of ammunition,” said Hugh Henderson, general manager of Hook, Line & Sinker, a sporting goods business in Oakley. “Basically, all of the information that’s on your driver’s license will be put into the system, and in 60 to 90 seconds we’ll find out if the person can purchase the ammunition. There will be a $1 charge for that background check for ammunition.”

Henderson noted the exact procedures for completing the background check had, as of June 25, not been released by the state.

“Requiring eligibility checks for gun and ammunition purchases is not only common sense, it works,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a press release. “Enforcing Prop. 63 will help us keep ammunition away from dangerous, prohibited individuals who have no business owning firearms or ammunition. California will continue to lead when it comes to reducing gun violence and keeping our communities safe.”

Proposition 63 was passed in November 2016 when 63% of voters approved the ballot initiative. It was designed to restrict individuals with violent histories from accessing firearms and ammunition. The legislation specifically: outlawed the possession of high-capacity magazines; created a system for relinquishing firearms from former felons who are prohibited by law from owning them; clarified that gun theft carries felony charges; required people and businesses to report lost or stolen guns; required background checks for ammunition purchases and; required internet sales of ammunition to be conducted through a licensed vendor.

“Gun violence is an American epidemic, and California is again on the front lines of combating it,” said Newsom. “Proposition 63 is proof of what we can accomplish when we stand up together and show the NRA that our children’s lives are more important than their profits. California will continue to lead the way when it comes to sensible policies that protect our families and communities from gun violence.”

However, Henderson expressed concern that the average consumer will bear the burden of the new regulation while criminals will continue working outside the constraints of legal avenues for ammunition purchases. The added time required to complete a purchase may also result in longer in-store lines, particularly on busy weekends.

“The intent of the law is to keep people who aren’t supposed to buy ammunition from buying ammunition,” said Henderson. “The reality of the law is that the law-abiding citizen is going to jump through all of the hoops. The person that can’t buy ammunition is going to get ammunition on the black market or steal it. It’s one of those laws that’s going to hurt the average guy ... It’s making it harder on the small retailer because of the hoops that they have to go through.”

Similarly, Zach Glaser, owner of Glaser Arms in Brentwood, referred to the requirements of Proposition 63 as “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” and argued legislation will not impact criminal behavior.

“If they have an illegal firearm, getting illegal ammunition isn’t that difficult,” said Glaser.

The first phase of Proposition 63’s implementation that outlawed possession of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds — referred to as high-capacity magazines — is currently tied up in the court system. The sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds has been banned in California since 2000, but people who acquired them legally before the ban were allowed to keep them. Under Proposition 63, owners must destroy the high-capacity magazines, surrender them to police or sell them to a licensed dealer.

In March, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez declared in a highly charged, 86-page ruling that the ban on high-capacity magazines is unconstitutional. Becerra appealed Benitez’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but the court has yet to hear the case. In April, Benitez ruled the state can reinstitute restrictions on the purchase of high-capacity magazines until the Court of Appeals issues a ruling. Benitez did not reinstate the provision of Proposition 63 that requires their surrender.

“The court understands that strong emotions are felt by people of goodwill on both sides of the constitutional and social policy questions,” wrote Benitez in his ruling. “The court understands that thoughtful and law-abiding citizens can and do firmly hold competing opinions on firearm magazine restrictions. These concerns auger in favor of judicial deliberation. There is an immeasurable societal benefit of maintaining the immediate status quo while the process of judicial review takes place.”