Cody Mann

California gun control laws, already among the strictest in the nation, tightened another notch on Monday as the state instituted background checks for ammunition purchases. Supporters of the new law say it will save lives, while opponents are gearing up for court battles.

Proposition 63 passed by a wide margin in 2016 and went into effect on July 1, 2019. Ammunition dealers reportedly saw a surge in sales as gun owners stocked up in the weeks prior. California has 4.5 million registered gun owners. It’s estimated that around 3 million shoot often enough to buy ammunition four or five times each year, according to USA Today.

The Associate Press reported that Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spokeswoman Amanda Wilcox appeared with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom at a news conference on Tuesday, July 2, and said the checks could have helped prevent the recent fatal shooting of a rookie Sacramento police officer.

Adel Sambrano Ramos allegedly shot 26-year-old Officer Tara O’Sullivan with a rifle built from parts that are illegal in California. Wilcox and other supporters said ammunition background checks could help authorities discover so-called ghost guns that aren't registered with the state.

The background check program is overseen by the California Department of Justice, which reportedly estimates there will be 13.2 million ammunition purchases each year. But 13 million of those will be made by people who already cleared background checks when they purchased firearms in California, and thus are already registered in the state database.

There will be a $1 processing fee every time ammunition is purchased. Cashiers will verify a customer’s identification through the gun owners’ database as well as a database of those who legally purchased firearms in the past, but are no longer allowed to possess them because of criminal convictions or mental health concerns. There would not be any delay for those who pass the checks.

However, those who bought rifles or shotguns before 2014, or handguns before 1996, are likely not in the Armed and Prohibited Persons System. Owners who aren't in the system will reportedly pay $19 for a one-time background check that could take days to complete, good for a single purchase within 30 days. The law’s supporters say that should encourage firearms registration.

Ammunition will only be sold through registered dealers, but owners can legally give each other ammunition.

The state is seeking to require a buyer to prove they are in the country legally if their driver’s license notes that federal limits apply. State Assembly Republicans were critical of the possibility that millions of drivers could be affected because they don’t have a new, federally approved driver’s license due in part to a Department of Motor Vehicles backlog. State officials have said older licenses would still be accepted.

The California ammunition law was preceded by similar legislation 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, Ari Freilich, California legislative affairs director for the San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center, told the Associate Press.

Freilich said requiring vendors to report the brand, type and amount of ammunition helps investigators identify who is buying massive volumes of ammunition, who is buying ammunition when they are barred from owning weapons, and perhaps link purchases of ammunition to crimes.

A lawsuit was filed by Kim Rhode and the National Rifle Association against the background check measure in 2018, claiming the checks violate the Second Amendment, impede interstate commerce and are pre-empted by federal law. Rhode said in a statement that she shoots thousands of shotgun shells weekly while trying to become the first person to win seven medals in seven consecutive Olympics.