Need to Know: California Takes the Lead on Gun Control by Restricting Ammo Sales
While federal law allows lax ammunition sales, Golden State officials are requiring background checks and sales tracking for all bullets.
Published on September 10, 2018

After a deadly shooting brought tragedy to a Jacksonville, Florida video game tournament late last month, America was once again forced to confront the disturbing persistence of mass shootings across the country. But despite public mourning and political talk of reform, legislators in Washington have so far failed to pass significant legislation to curb the country’s deadly epidemic of gun violence. Refusing to accept federal futility, though, city and state leaders in California have taken their own approach to silence improper firearm use, and they’re starting with bullets.

According to a new report from the New York Times, the Golden State is currently in the process of implementing some of the nation’s most restrictive ammunition laws, and will eventually require full background checks and tracking procedures for any bullet purchase, in addition to technological measures to trace discharged bullets for newly manufactured pistols. On the whole, these measures are an attempt to keep authoritative eyes on not just guns, but the entire firearm supply chain. 

In most states, ammunition is freely available, sold in Wal-Marts and sporting good stores to whoever asks. Federal law restricts youth under 18 from purchasing ammunition, but those rules are rarely enforced. Unlike gun sales, which typically require a background check and a waiting period, bullets are routinely sold over the counter for cash, with no questions asked, and can be purchased online without any personal info needed except a credit card and an address.

In California, however, state officials banned direct internet ammo sales in January of this year, instead requiring bullet shipments to be sent to a local licensed dealer, where proprietors can perform requisite checks. City leaders in Los Angeles and Sacramento have already implemented mandatory sales logs on all ammunition transactions, with the same policy going statewide at the beginning of next year. In July of next year, California will also begin implementing ammunition background checks in addition to mandatory record keeping. And while it has yet to be established, Golden State gun control advocates are also calling for a “bullet tax” to drastically increase the price of ammunition. 

If you ask firearm advocates, though, the new bullet control measures are nothing but affronts to the Second Amendment.

“It is wrong to treat California’s law-abiding gun owners like criminals,” Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, told the Times

Mixing metaphors (and forgetting about the political discourse surrounding safe needle exchange and injection sites), Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, attempted to compare California’s potential gun control measures to the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic.

“Raising taxes on bullets to offset the cost of gun violence is akin to putting a levy on prescription drugs to pay for the price of heroin addiction,” Keane told the Times.

But in Los Angeles and Sacramento, where bullet sales tracking measures are already in use, police say that the added information has become invaluable, and has already helped turn cold cases into quick convictions.

Because the same Americans who are barred from purchasing guns are also technically banned from buying ammunition, police are now able to look through transaction logs of shops and compare purchasers’ names against warrants and gun restriction lists, in work that Sacramento police say has already taken hundreds of illegal guns off the streets and helped solve countless crimes. 

Currently, New York is the only state that has passed bullet control measures similar to California, but thanks to political pushback, the implementation of the Empire State’s ammo background checks has been delayed.

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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