By Ashleigh Bartlett
Kern Valley Sun
In 2016, 63 percent of California voters passed Proposition 63, one of the largest and most complex laws regarding the sale and possession of firearms and ammunition that has ever gone into effect in the United States.
On July 1, phase 2 of Proposition 63 began, applying to both gun stores and gun shows throughout California. Ammunition sales now require a $1 fee paid by the consumer for a point-of-sale background eligibility check. This background check will cross-reference the consumer’s identification with the information in the Automated Firearms System, indicating when they purchased and registered their firearm. If the consumer is not currently a gun owner or in the system, the Department of Justice will conduct a special one-time check for $19, and this check can purportedly take up to a week.
The official ballot summary for Proposition 63:
• Requires individuals to pass a background check and obtain Department of Justice authorization to purchase ammunition.
• Prohibits possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, and requires their disposal, as specified.
• Requires most ammunition sales be made through licensed ammunition vendors and reported to Department of Justice.
• Requires lost or stolen firearms and ammunition be reported to law enforcement.
• Prohibits persons convicted of stealing a firearm from possessing firearms.
• Establishes new procedures for enforcing laws prohibiting firearm possession.
• Requires Department of Justice to provide information about prohibited persons to federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System
The California Department of Justice (DOJ), which will administer the background check program, estimates there will be 13.2 million ammunition purchases each year. But 13 million will be by people who have already cleared background checks when they bought guns in California, so they are already registered in the state’s gun owners’ database.
Currently, federal law requires background checks – through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – only for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers, which account for 78 percent of all gun sales in the United States. This figure was published in a 2017 study by the Annals of Internal Medicine comparing data from 1994, indicating 40 percent of recent gun acquisitions were completed without a background check, to a 2015 survey which found that 22 percent of recent gun transfers were completed without a background check. The current federal law allows people not “engaged in the business” of selling firearms to sell firearms without a license or records. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) states that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has prevented over two million felons and other prohibited persons from purchasing firearms. According to the CSGV, the law also has a prohibitive effect that deters illegal purchases.
The background check will verify that the potential buyer is not a registered felon, and if they are a registered owner of the model gun they are buying ammunition for. If they do not own that model, they will not be allowed to purchase ammo.
“The reality is, if we’re only monitoring gun sales, we’re only looking at part of the problem and part of the equation,” State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in an interview.
California’s requirement follows similar laws in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Gun violence declined in those states after they required licenses to buy ammunition, though they also tightened other gun laws, said Ari Freilich, California legislative affairs director.
He said requiring vendors to report the brand, type and amount of ammunition will enable the justice department to spot who is buying massive volumes of ammunition, who is buying ammunition when they are barred from owning weapons, and perhaps link purchases of a specific type of ammunition to a nearby crime.
The state is also seeking to require owners to prove that they are in the country legally if their drivers’ licenses contain the notation that “federal limits apply.”
Proposition 63 was almost immediately challenged in court by opponents and gun rights advocates, who argued that the bill was unconstitutional and violated the 2nd Amendment in the United States Constitution.
“For retailers and the average recreational shooter, these new requirements are going to, at a minimum, create practical and financial problems and friction when trying to make a simple ammunition purchase, and they will do nothing to stop access by criminals who have so many other ways to get ammunition,” said Chuck Michel, an attorney for the National Rifle Association and its state affiliate, the California Rifle & Pistol Association.
Those who remain opposed believe these efforts, however well-intentioned, are misplaced. “Laws of this caliber could be viewed as representative of a political move toward regulating firearms instead of addressing the root causes of violent crime,” explained a local gun shop owner in a phone interview. “Their system has not been proven to be flawless.”
“Many people will be temporarily inconvenienced, just as they are in an airport security line, to keep everyone safer,” Freilich said.
In February 2014, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research reported that after the 2007 repeal in Missouri of a long-standing law that required all handgun buyers to pass a background check there was a 23 percent increase in firearms homicides.
It’s still legal for California residents to own military style semi-automatic rifles, or ‘assault weapons,’ but as of 2016 they can no longer be purchased from California dealers, and anyone who does own them has to register them.
Retailers reported consumers were noticeably stockpiling ammo – increasing sales by as much as 300 percent in recent weeks – as the deadline of July 1 approached for the law to be fully implemented.